La Gaceta De Mexico - Wawrinka 'lucky enough to play, sometimes beat' the 'big three'

Wawrinka 'lucky enough to play, sometimes beat' the 'big three'
Wawrinka 'lucky enough to play, sometimes beat' the 'big three' / Photo: © AFP

Wawrinka 'lucky enough to play, sometimes beat' the 'big three'

Swiss tennis great Stan Wawrinka told AFP that he was "lucky enough to play and sometimes beat" the 'big three' of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, as the triple Grand Slam winner reflected on a golden era for the sport.

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The 39-year-old is preparing for his 19th French Open where he will take on the retiring Andy Murray in the first round -- the only other player to have won three Grand Slams outside the 'big three' since Federer's first in 2003.

However, the build-up to the tournament has been dominated by talk of 14-time Roland Garros champion Nadal, who will likely take to the Parisian clay for the last time, and the poor recent form of record Grand Slam title holder Djokovic.

With Federer retiring in 2022, Nadal playing his last season and Djokovic, despite still being world number one, recently turning 37 and not having won a title in 2024, tennis is moving inexorably towards a new era.

"I was lucky enough to be able to play alongside them (the big three) and sometimes beat them," said Wawrinka.

"Of course, the only way to win a Grand Slam then was to improve.

"As in every generation, whether it was them, (Pete) Sampras before them, or (Andre) Agassi, when you want to beat the best, you have to get better."

A winner of three Grand Slam titles, Wawrinka truly did it the hard way -- beating Nadal in Australia in 2014, Djokovic in Paris in 2015 and the Serb again in the 2016 US Open.

Djokovic has 24 Grand Slams to his name, two more than Nadal who will turn 38 during this year's French Open, as both players have shown a dominance and longevity that is almost unprecedented in the Open era, alongside 20-time champion Federer.

"It's their quality. Their level, their professionalism, the way they prepare for important moments," said Wawrinka of this longevity.

"For a period of 10-15 years, they were in the semi-finals and finals of every tournament. That was really impressive."

- Changing of the guard -

Plagued by injuries, Nadal has barely played since January 2023 after being afflicted by a hip injury and a muscle tear.

He missed last year's French Open and faces a tough task in this edition if he is to claim a record-extending 15th Roland Garros title as the world number 276 will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev in Monday's first round.

As for Djokovic, the world number one has endured a dry 2024 where his record stands at a modest 14-6, with his latest upset coming Friday against 44th-ranked Czech Tomas Machac in the semi-final of the Geneva 250 event, which he entered as a last-minute wildcard to try to build some clay-court momentum before heading to Paris.

The previously untouchable Serb could lose his top ranking to 22-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner and must reach the semi-finals of the French Open to have any chance of keeping the youngster at bay.

And Wawrinka thinks second-ranked Sinner and 21-year-old world number three Carlos Alcaraz -- both already Grand Slam champions -- have the quality to take over the mantle.

"They are already very impressive for their age and also in terms of their results. It's a big challenge to play them," said the Swiss veteran.

"I haven't had the chance to play Alcaraz. But Sinner, it's incredible what he's doing, he plays very fast on both sides.

"As for whether they'll be able to dominate, time will tell."