Under coach Magnus Norman, Stanislas Wawrinka is reaching new heights, including his maiden Grand Slam tournament final tonight. Can the Swede give the Swiss the ingredients for success?By Alix Ramsay | Sunday, 26 January, 2014
The celebrity coaches have all left town, their players beaten and their plans torn to shreds.
Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl were the talk of the town when the tournament began; they were the great champions of a former generation doing battle again as coaches to the current superstars. But nobody noticed Magnus Norman. Then again, nobody ever did.
The quiet Swede never quite made it to the very, very top. He reached the French Open final in 2000, he got as high as No.2 in the rankings but he never quite grabbed centre stage. Just when it looked like he might be in with a shout, he was hobbled by a serious hip injury that effectively ended his career.
As for the fame game, his greatest claim to notoriety away from the courts was dating Martina Hingis. No, Magnus was never a celebrity. But as coach, our Magnus is turning into a legend.
It all began with Robin Soderling, his talented but hot-headed countryman.
In the space of six months in 2009, he channelled all of Soderling’s anger and rage into on-court aggression and focus and took him to the French Open final. To get there, he had to overcome one R. Nadal of Manacor – Nadal’s only loss at Roland Garros. Norman guided Soderling to another final in Paris the following year so proving the previous results had not been a fluke: Soderling was the real deal and it took Norman to prove it.
And now Magnus’s Midas touch is working with Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss’s talent has never been in question; his physical strength is obvious while his backhand is a wonder to behold. It is just putting all these three elements together in one, unified whole that proved to be the problem. Wawrinka has had his moments against the top men in the past but he never had a decent run at a major championship until he teamed up with the Swede with the magic formula – and from the semifinals in New York last September, he is now in the finals here.
“We have a great relationship,” Wawrinka explained.
“He's a great guy and really good coach. I'm really happy to work with him. We start in April only. We’re not doing full time.
"We have a good rhythm together. He's really good because during every 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.
“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 a Grand Slam semifinal. 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. So I take a lot of risks sometimes, so it's important to be really fresh and relaxed in my head.”
As he has closed out every match this fortnight, Wawrinka has pointed to his head – this winning business is all between the ears and now Stan’s head is clear and his focus is fixed.
The confidence and belief that Norman has managed to instil in his charge has carried Wawrinka past Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals (9-7 in the fifth no less) and Tomas Berdych in the semis. But now he must take his courage and his belief in both hands and try to find a way past Nadal, a man he has not only lost to 12 times in a row but a man he has failed to take a set from in a dozen meetings.
“The record is not what I'm looking at,” Wawrinka said as the Swiss press corps heaved a huge sigh of relief.
“That's what is it is against Rafa. I don't care about having lost 12 times. It's more about playing Rafa. He's the No. 1, the best player. His game is quite tough for me, especially with one‑hand backhand. But I did some good match last year against him, close one. I find few things that I will try tomorrow.
“Again, I'm playing my best tennis here; physically I'm ready. I had two days off, so that's perfect for me before final. Going to try everything. Before to beat Djokovic was the same. I was losing 14 times before that. Just the fact that I'm always trying and I always think that I can change all the statistic, that's positive.”
He will need to be positive, will Stan. As a glum and defeated Roger Federer pointed out on Friday night, Nadal is excellent at neutralising the opposition. No matter what game plan Federer had been working on and implementing throughout the tournament, when he faced Nadal, everything changed.
“It's totally different playing Rafa over anybody else,” Federer said. “Playing Murray or Rafa is day and night. It's not because of the level necessarily, but it's just every point is played in a completely different fashion and I have to totally change my game. No excuse. It's just a fact of what it is.”
But Stan has only just changed his game and what he has changed it into is working like a dream. Surely he doesn’t have to go and change again. Alas, he does.
If he is to win tonight, he will have to do it on Rafa’s terms. That is just the way it is. And if the quiet, unassuming Magnus Norman he can manage to make him do that then it won’t just be Stan Wawrinka standing in the spotlight; the coaching world will have found itself a new superstar.