As is the case at most major sporting events, before the dust even settles and sometimes in the midst of all the chaos, a new star emerges from the celestial tennis universe. This star, this powerful energy filled super body gets noticed through that intergalactic dust cloud of the professional tennis tour. So many players, so many countries, so many surnames, so many backstories, so many matches. They are not discovered by amateur stargazers through a high powered telescope. They shine bright because of their strokes, their personalities, or their fighting spirit. Sometimes, although shallow, can even be from their physical appearence. But unlike stars, sometimes a player allows us to discover them simply because they discovered themselves. This describes Stanislas Wawrinka. Also known simply as Stan or even Stan “The Man”.
The 2003 French Open Boy’s Champion, Wawrinka has always had the talent. He’s had the physical tools, and as any fan or high level tennis coach will tell you, that backhand is superb. Other pros would sign the dotted line immediately if it meant selling their soul to Lucifer himself in order to possess such a devastating and impeccably timed groundstroke. Also, friend, Davis Cup and 2008 Beijing Gold medalist teammate Roger Federer has helped Stanislas along the way. If things didn’t seem good enough for Wawrinka, he also received a pretty nice round of applause from journalists during his post match press conference after his quarterfinal dismantling of defending champ Andy Murray. Journalists won’t give you a round of applause for only a good performance, those happen for many players numerous times during a single event. They applaud as a sign of true respect and happiness for a player that they have always known was capable of performances like these. But a performance of this magnitude required a secret weapon. What was it?
As well rounded as Wawrinka is, there was clearly one item in his arsenal that needed to be adjusted. Coincidentally, it’s also the secret weapon that can help any player at any level. It’s difficult to come by and very easy to lose. It’s tennis’ version of lightning in a bottle. That secret sauce, that je ne sai quoi, that magical elixir that is maddeningly intoxicating yet has no intentions of causing a hangover, only success and a clear head.
This secret weapon is called “Confidence”. Here’s what Stanislas Wawrinka can teach us about confidence.
Confidence in tennis, as in most pursuits, is the ability to have faith in yourself. It’s your belief in yourself and the belief your game will be successful no matter what the circumstance. Stanislas Wawrinka knew he was having a good season well before the 2013 US Open. The 28 year-old Swiss took the best player in the world, Novak Djokovic, to the brink earlier this year in Melbourne, losing a heartbreaker 12-10 in the fifth. Despite the loss, the proof in knowing he was capable of such a level made his feet lighter, his heart stronger and his belief deeper. He took positives out of the loss and used it to his advantage. What you can learn from Stan: Playing the correct way and giving a great effort, win or lose, builds confidence
This confidence continued on through the year with great results winning the Portugal Open over David Ferrer, making the finals of Buenos Aires, Madrid and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The quarterfinals of the French Open and through the Summer hard courts and into Flushing Meadows. Each match playing with the right attitude and proper strategic game plan made Stan stronger. When not on court, the hard work off the court in training made Wawrinka realize success was not optional nor was it given, it must be desired and worked for. With each drop of sweat the confidence grew stronger. What you can learn from Stan: Commitment and Hard work builds confidence
Wawrinka defeated two Top -5 players in the world (Berdych, Murray) and once again took Novak Djokovic to 5 sets in an epic match. Watching Wawrinka in all of these matches there were times where he may have misplayed a ball. Hit an inexcusuable unforced error, or made a tactical error that let his opponent back in the game. The old Stan would have let that bother him. Maybe implode. It would be easy to hit the panic button in these situations against these great players. Not the new, improved and confident Stan! He believed in his abilities and knew that despite one mistake, it didnt bother him. When you go into a match being confident, it doesn’t really matter how the momentum swings, you’ll find a way. If you’re confident, tactical errors and bad shots do not seem to bother you. You know in the long run that its only a brief lapse in the way things are going to happen. What you can learn from Stan: Not sweating the small stuff and overreacting to the common twists and turns of every tennis match builds confidence
Who has the best one-handed backhand on tour? If your answer was Stanislas Wawrinka you are probably right. The best part is you won’t get much of an argument from most people. It’s hard to go against something that is both technically powerful and aesthetically proper. He also possesses a deceiving serve that he can blast into all corners of a service box. But then you have his forehand. A flick of the racquet face to the back fence and modernized grip with a slap across the ball motion that is capable of winners, but also of many errors. His backhand, with its legend growing by the minute and booming serve surpasses his idiosynchratic forehand. But besides the technical and visual aspects of a shot is the cold hard truth. He won with it. Confidence means you believe in your shots, no matter what goes on the other side of the net. A lot of players will go for the shot, but at the last minute, there’s not that belief. To make it work you have to let go of the outcome and just trust the stroke and believe that it’s going to work. In the long-term, you believe you will win for the simple reason that you believe in yourself. Great stroke, good stroke, or average stroke does not matter, if you are about to hit the ball, you better trust it in that moment. What you can learn from Stan: Going for your shots builds confidence
There are points in every game, set and match that are crucial. The entire outcome of the match hinge on these moments. Being able to identify them is obvious. Being able to handle the pressure, execute and make good decisions is what great players can do on a consistent basis. Wawrinka used these moments to his advantage, especially in the quarterfinal match with Andy Murray. Good decisions were frequent as Murray gave Wawrinka the opportunities to make them. Stanislas recognized these moments and won 9 out of 10 points serving and volleying, 31 out of 42 points moving forward and most importantly, keeping up the winning game plan and not letting Murray and the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd overwhelm him. As the match wore on, Murray wore out. Wawrinka was playing better and his confidence was growing with each point. He knew he was playing well, which made his quality of tennis grow exponentially. What you can learn from Stan: Being alert and recognizing opportunities allows for good decisions. Good decisions build confidence
Go ahead, soak this up. You just learned a key to tennis success from 2013 US Open semi-finalist Stanislas Wawrinka. Now maybe one day…you’ll learn that backhand.
Thanks for reading.