Wawrinka: 'I Feel Quite Good'
Sometimes, it’s not easy to look on the bright side of a straight-sets defeat. But that is what Swiss Stan Wawrinka did after his opening-round loss against American Steve Johnson at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday in his first match since February at Marseille. The 33-year-old says he only started practising fully 12 days ago, after all.
“Disappointed with the result, that's for sure. Would have loved to win,” Wawrinka said. “[But] if I really look where I am right now, I'm really happy. I think, in general, my level is really high, it’s better than what I expected.... I'm happy with the level I have in practice. I'm happy with physically where I am right now. I feel quite good, I have to say, on the court.”
Earlier in the year, that was not the case. Wawrinka missed the end of the 2017 season after Wimbledon following two knee surgeries last August. But he returned at this year's Australian Open and played two more tournaments, including a run to the Sofia semi-finals (l. to Basic), before taking another three months off to fully recover.
“When I came back in Australia, it was quite clear that I wasn't ready at all. I wasn't at my top [level] physically,” Wawrinka admitted. “It was important to play matches, to test my knee, to see where I was. How I would handle the pressure of the match, playing against the top guys two hours, four hours a day, just to see. But I've always been clear that I was far away from my level.
“I was positive to see that the knee was doing okay. But, I knew I needed a lot of time to work on my fitness… that's what I did when I stopped after Marseille. I went back to doing fitness almost every day for like three months. And I worked a lot. It was tough. It was some tough weeks. But, honestly, I'm really happy to see where I am right now.”
And while the 6-4, 6-4 scoreline against Johnson appears straightforward, the Swiss showed flashes of his brilliant shotmaking capabilities, and lost just four fewer points than the Houston champion in the match. So does he really feel as if he is far from the level he’s capable of performing at?
“I think I'm close to my top level. I still have a lot of work to do. I still need a lot of time, [I need to] play matches, keep trying to play week after week to find the confidence,” Wawrinka said. “It's just I need to be patient. I need to keep working out, but be patient. But again, as I said, I'm positive because my level is already really high. And I know that it will come.”
Another positive for Wawrinka is that the former World No. 3 says he is back working with former coach Magnus Norman, and that he hopes they will continue together for the rest of the season.
“He came into town when I could start to practise fully in tennis [on the court], so it was only two weeks ago,” Wawrinka said. “For sure, he's going to keep working with me.”
So while the past 10 months have been anything but easy, Wawrinka knows that the roughest patch is behind him. He can worry less about his injury, and more about enjoying his tennis on the court.
“I had some days I wasn't so sure I will be strong enough to keep working and to keep trying. But, I had the chance to have a great team around me. That's really helped me to get through those tough, tough days,” Wawrinka said. “Now, I can finally really talk about tennis, focus on my game, trying to improve, trying to find my game. And that's really good after so long.”