The mangled racket left on his chair at Queen’s Club told its own story. Stanislas Wawrinka went to last week’s Aegon Championships hoping, in his own words, to “put the puzzle back together” after his shocking loss in the first round of the French Open last month, but a racket-smashing tantrum during his semi-final defeat at Queen’s against Grigor Dimitrov suggested that one or two pieces might still be missing.
If the world No 3’s head remains in a state of turmoil it should be no surprise. It has been a turbulent last six months for the 29-year-old, who until this year had won only four minor tournaments and seemed destined to be known forever as “the Swiss No 2”. Since the turn of the year, however, he has won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, claimed his first Masters Series trophy at Monte Carlo, taken over from Roger Federer as his country’s leading player – and suffered a series of surprising defeats.
In his first tournaments after his Melbourne triumph Wawrinka was condemned to premature exits in Indian Wells and Miami by Kevin Anderson and Alexandr Dolgopolov respectively. Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev then beat him in the Davis Cup in Geneva, while Dominic Thiem, Tommy Haas and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat him in the early rounds on clay in Madrid, Rome and Paris respectively.
Wawrinka admitted that he had difficulty maintaining concentration in the wake of his Australian Open win. “During the matches I was a little bit like: ‘It’s OK if I lose. I’ve just won a Grand Slam. It doesn’t affect me.’ I was a little bit lost in my head after winning a Grand Slam. You’re like: ‘So what’s the next goal? What do you want now? Where do you want to be? It’s not a problem if you lose.’ The way I was playing, the way I was fighting, was not good enough. And I knew it.”
After the Miami Masters in March Wawrinka and his coach, Magnus Norman, discussed what was wrong. “The results there weren’t so good, but it was more the way I was playing, the way I was mentally,” Wawrinka said. “I wasn’t happy with myself at all. I had some big discussions with my team after Miami to think a little about the schedule, about what I wanted, where I wanted to be.”
Wawrinka decided to target a first Masters Series title and achieved his goal in stunning fashion in his next tournament, beating Marin Cilic, Nicolas Almagro, Milos Raonic, David Ferrer and Federer to claim victory in Monte Carlo.
“Monte Carlo was right up there with the Australian Open win because it was my first Masters 1000, it was my first clay-court tournament of the year and I beat Roger in the final,” Wawrinka said. “That’s always something special. It’s always tough for me to play him, to try to beat him. To play him in the final of my first Masters 1000 was something really amazing for me.”
Wawrinka, though, was satisfied with his run to the semi-finals at Queen’s last week and believes he can make a mark at Wimbledon, which begins on Monday. “There’s no reason why I can’t,” he said. “It’s more about the beginning of the tournament because the surface is a little bit different.”
Because Wimbledon gives extra weight to grass-court results, Federer will be seeded above Wawrinka, although his fellow countryman is beneath him in the world rankings.
“That’s normal because I think Roger owns Wimbledon a little bit, with so many trophies, so many victories there,” Wawrinka said. “He’s the best player on grass courts when he’s fit. It’s so nice to see him playing on grass. He adapts so well. I’m the first fan of Roger at Wimbledon because he’s so good. I’ve never had amazing results there, but I’m sure Magnus and I will change our preparation a bit and we’ll be ready to have a good tournament.”
If the signs are that Wawrinka has still to come to terms with his new-found status as a Grand Slam champion, he does at least understand the problem. As soon as he won the Australian Open he sensed that life would be different. Feeling exhausted, he pulled out of three tournaments and went on holiday with his wife and daughter.
The mayor of St Barthelemy, where Wawrinka lives, wanted a civic event to honour the local hero, but the player declined. “The mayor is quite crazy,” Wawrinka said with a laugh. “He likes to be in the newspapers.
“For me it was too much. I don’t like those things, even if it was really nice that they wanted to do something for me. The schedule is tough in tennis. When I’m back home I try to do as little as possible because I want to take time with my family. That’s the most important thing.
“I like my easy life at home. I like to live in Switzerland. I like to be with my wife, with my daughter, to take my daughter to school, to lead a normal life. I try everything possible to keep that.”
Three weeks after his shock first-round defeat at the French Open, had he had time to ponder what went wrong? “I had a lot of time for that, but I think I know more or less. I prefer to keep it private. I have been talking a lot about that with Magnus, my team and my parents. I think I’m ready for the rest of the season.”