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Stan's talent now coming to the fore

By Chris Pike
26 January 2014 05:16AM EST

STANISLAS Wawrinka's natural talent now has him in places he never thought possible as the Swiss No. 1 and a Grand Slam final with no pressure whatsoever against Rafael Nadal on Sunday night.

The 28-year-old world No. 8 from Switzerland won his way through to the Australian Open final of 2014 by beating Tomas Berdych in Thursday night's semi-final in four sets and now is getting ready to face Spanish world No. 1 Nadal in Sunday night's final.

With all expectations on the world No. 1 and 13-time Grand Slam winner Nadal to prevail on Sunday night after he thrashed Wawrinka's compatriot Roger Federer in the semi finals on Friday, the new Swiss No. 1 ranked player now has the freedom of being the underdog in his first Grand Slam final.

Ever since he first appeared on the ATP Tour in 2002, Wawrinka's natural stroke-making ability particularly his stunning one-handed backhand has been obvious but for much of his career something seemed to be missing.

Whether it was lack of conditioning, not quite the required level of self-belief or not the proper backing from his camp, Wawrinka seemed to be cruising in his career as a player ranked around 20 or 30 in the world who seemed content just to be a talented player but not one of the top men.

However, something changed when former world No. 2 Swede Magnus Normal took over as coach and the results have been obvious to see since.

It started with Wawrinka missing a golden chance to upset then world No. 1 Novak Djokovic as last year's Australian Open before the eventual champion won 12-10 in the fifth set.

The old Wawrinka would have gone back into his shell after that heartbreak, but instead he continued to have the best year of his career culminating into a superb run to the US Open semi finals where again he lost to Djokovic and again it was in five sets.

Again it was a heartbreaking loss, but Wawrinka showed he could make a semi-final at a major and also showed he could get into match-winning positions against the very best.

All that added up to Wawrinka coming into the Australian Open in 2014 full of confidence and he cruised into the quarter finals to get another crack at Djokovic. This time he prevailed in five sets and then beat Czech world No. 7 Berdych to book a spot in Sunday's final.

"After the semi-final in US Open I knew that I was close to being there. But still was for me far away to make a final in Grand Slam. You never know what's happen," Wawrinka said.

"I was disappointed to lost against Novak in US Open, but I knew I was close with the level. But for me I was so far. Was not my goal at all to make final in Grand Slam."

Wawrinka was understandably overjoyed to qualify for his first Grand Slam final in his 36th major tournament after resigning himself to the fact that he might have left his run too late to get 100 per cent serious about his tennis.

"I feel great. It's amazing, you know. I didn't expect to make a final in Grand Slam in my career. Now it's happening, so I'm really happy. I'm working really hard since many years, try to improve my game, and try to get some big match in big stadium. Now I'm the first final in a Grand Slam, so I can be only really happy," Wawrinka said.

"Well, this time it's because I'm at the top of my career. Already last year I had the feeling that I was playing better, but I was dealing better the pressure also. I'm more mature. I'm 28 now. I'm on the tour since 10 years. Now I feel that it's my time to my best tennis. I'm enjoying more what I'm doing, when I'm winning, and also maybe I know more how to deal with all the pressure around."

Wawrinka didn’t always look like a player who believed in himself that he could beat the best players in the world, but without doubt that has changed over the past 12 months.

Not only does he look like he believe he can beat the top players, but he has proven that he can actually do it now and he credits a lot of his rejuvenation to his relatively new coach Norman.

"Especially as a player. I have more confidence on myself. I know that when I go on court I can beat almost everybody, even in the big stage like in Grand Slam semi-final now. So for sure it's a lot about confidence, especially with my game that I'm playing quite fast from the baseline, trying to always be aggressive," he said.

"We have a great relationship. He's a great guy and really good coach. I'm really happy to work with him. We start in April only. We not doing full time. He came in Switzerland in off season for 10 days, and I then I was alone until Chennai, came here before. So we have a good rhythm together.

"He's really good because during ever practice, even every warm-up, he's always behind me and trying to push me and show me how to improve, how to keep going. He always wants more, so it's great for me that I have someone behind me always to try to show me the way how to be a better player."

Wawrinka's task of now winning his first Grand Slam is a daunting one against the rampaging Nadal whom he has never beaten in 12 attempts, but he has taken everything in his stride so far and now has just one more hurdle to overcome.

And even though he would have loved to face his good friend and compatriot Federer in his first final, he's more than happy to now have to beat the best in the world right now to win his first major title.

"Take the confidence from my level in general. I know that I'm playing my best tennis. I'm moving well. I'm really aggressive. I'm serving well. I always find solution. So that's where I take solution, the confidence." Wawrinka said.

"Yeah, for sure it will have been amazing to Roger in the final, to have an all Swiss final. But watch the match. I'm happy to play Rafa, you know. He's a really good friend. We practice a lot together. He's amazing champion. So it's going to be a great final for sure to play him.

Yeah, I play him so many times, lost so many times, but going to try again. I know what I have to do: I know that I have to play aggressive, serve really well, and trying to always push him. We'll see how I can do that tomorrow night."

There's no question that Wawrinka will have no physical excuses come Sunday night against Nadal.

He now would have had two full days of rest since his semi-final victory and he also had a third round walkover victory when Canada's Vasek Pospisil didn’t play.

"It was great. Yesterday I just came to have some fitness, massage, relaxing a little bit. I had easy afternoon off completely," Wawrinka said.

"Watch the match yesterday night, and today I had one hour of practice. So nothing special, you know. Just trying to be ready for tomorrow. One more day off was great for me, especially after two really tough match against Novak and Tomas. So I think was great for my body."

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