MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Stan Wawrinka is true to his word.
Last year, after winning the Australian Open, he vowed that upon his return in 2015 he would go straight to the corridor in Rod Laver Arena known as the Walk of Champions, to take a picture of himself standing beside his larger-than-life image on the wall.
And that is what Wawrinka did. He took a selfie.
“When I came back the first time here in the locker room, I had all the big memories from last year,” Wawrinka said Saturday, after cruising to his third straight sets victory with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over Jarkko Nieminen. “I came to see my picture and to take a picture with me with myself over there.”
“That’s the best feeling. To see my picture over there with all these amazing champions,” said the 29-year-old Swiss, who has spent most of his career in the shadow of countryman Roger Federer.
Wawrinka is the defending champion, but he does not want to dwell on it - even though he enters post-match news conferences in a bright red T-shirt provided by his sponsor that says “Stan the Man.”
He remains today, as he was right after his victory, more subdued than overjoyed when he talks about winning his first Grand Slam title. He gives the impression of a man who does not want to jinx his success by talking about it.
“My focus is on the tournament this year. I’m not thinking about last year,” Wawrinka said. “I had some amazing memories last year, for sure. But it’s really important to stay on what’s happened today, and what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
In a news conference earlier in the week, Wawrinka said his approach was “to start at zero again,” to try to wipe out thoughts that could prove distracting.
But to briefly revisit the past, Wawrinka’s triumph last year included beating the then three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals and then No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal in the final, despite having never beaten either of them before. As a result, he rose to a career-high ranking of No. 3.
This year, Wawrinka is ranked No. 4 and could meet Djokovic in the semifinals and face another final against Nadal, who has returned from injuries in a determined bid for the title.
No. 6 Andy Murray, seeking his third Grand Slam trophy, is another possible opponent for the final.
As the Australian Open heads into its second week, the spotlight remains riveted on the top players still in the draw. The surprise third-round loss of No. 2 Roger Federer means that only three of the so-called Big Four are still in contention.
Some high-profile observers, like Serena Williams, say Wawrinka cannot be overlooked.
“Stan is playing well. He’s kind of flying under the radar,” said Williams, who nonetheless says Murray is her favorite to win.
Keeping a low-profile suits Wawrinka fine.
“For sure, I’m not the focus. For me it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m feeling great. I’m happy the way I’m playing. To get to the second week again, it’s great. So far, everything is good for me.”
On Monday in the fourth round, Wawrinka has a score to settle against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who beat him in the first round of last year’s French Open.
“That was a tough loss, that’s for sure,” he said. “It will be nice to play him again in a Grand Slam - here.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.