Despite Roger Federer's global domination you would hardly think of Switzerland as a hotbed of tennis. When the latest men's world rankings are published tomorrow, however, there will be two Swiss in the top 10 for the first time.
Stanislas Wawrinka has lived in Federer's shadow throughout his career, but the 23-year-old's progress to this afternoon's Rome Masters final ensures he will jump at least 14 places from his current position at No 24. Wawrinka will play Novak Djokovic after both players benefited from retirements in their semi-finals yesterday. It was not a day to be a ticket-holder at the Foro Italico: Andy Roddick lost three games before throwing in the towel against Wawrinka because of an injured shoulder, while Radek Stepanek, Federer's conqueror, was trailing Djokovic 6-0 1-0 when he pulled out complaining of dizziness.
If Djokovic hardly needed the rest following Nicolas Almagro's retirement during their quarter-final, Wawrinka has had a more demanding week. The former French Open junior champion, who is at his best on clay, was taken to three sets by Marat Safin and James Blake and also had to work hard for victories over Andy Murray and Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Wawrinka's rise shows the rewards that dedication can bring. The Swiss No 2 has limitedtalent but has strength, powerfulgroundstrokes and an appetite for hard work. His fitness has improved since working with Federer's fitness trainer, Pierre Paganini, and he has been climbing up the rankings since recovering from a knee injury last year.
Reaching his first Masters Series final has given him his most significant lift yet and, with few ranking points to defend in the next three months, he could make even further progress.
"I'm not like Roger or Djokovic, who's only 20 but is already world No 3," Wawrinka said yesterday. "I need more time, more practice, more experience. I never imagined being in the top 10, but I'll be very happy to be there. It will be good to be with Roger in the top 10. He's a good friend."
Djokovic is closing fast on Rafael Nadal in the rankings. If the Australian Open champion wins today he will be within touching distance of the Spaniard, who has been at No 2 for nearly three years. Should Nadal pull out of this week's Hamburg Masters – he has been complaining about the heavy demands of the schedule and was troubled by blisters during his defeat here by Ferrero – Djokovic would overtake himif he reached the Hamburg quarter-finals.
The recent plague of retirements, withdrawals, injuries and illnesses has strengthened Nadal's arguments about the calendar. Federer took the Estoril title last month when Nikolay Davydenko retired; Djokovic, who quit with tonsillitis during his semi-final against Federer in Monte Carlo, won his quarter-final here after Almagro (who earlier benefited from FernandoGonzalez's withdrawal) retired with injury; and Juan Martin del Potro's back injury led to an early finish against Murray.