Switzerland is on the cusp of something extraordinary. Long recognized more for its foreign policy neutrality and loose tax policy than athletic prowess, the tiny European country could soon claim the world’s top two men’s tennis players. In case you missed it, Swiss tennis stars Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka have approached the apex of the men’s game.
Following his triumph at the Australian Open in January, Wawrinka stormed to his first career ATP Tour Masters Series 1000 on Sunday in Monte Carlo, edging his elder countryman, Federer, in a tight, three-set final.
After having been written off by the tennis journalism intelligentsia on what seems like a quarterly basis over the last few years, Fed has performed solidly throughout 2014. The Swiss great chalked-up a semi-final appearance in Melbourne, before winning the title in Rotterdam and dropping a thrilling third-set tie-breaker to world number two Novak Djokovic in the finals of Indian Wells, tennis’ sixth-biggest event.
Wawrinka and Federer are now three and 4, respectively, in the men’s ranking, trailing world number one Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. But with the spring clay-court season in full-swing, and Wimbledon right around corner, the world’s top two have plenty of points to lose, and their Alpine counterparts much to gain.
Here’s how the points shake out.
|Current Rank||Player||Points as of April 21, 2014||Points to Defend between April 21 and end of Wimbledon|
By my (calculator-aided) calculations, Nadal has a whopping 4,510 points to defend between now and the end of Wimbledon, more than twice as many as Djokovic, who must garner 2,110 during this period to avoid a net loss. Stani and Fed, meanwhile, only have 1,415 and 1,345, respectively, which means that they have fewer points to defend at a time when each has hit their respective stride.
Each can gain major ground at the French and Wimbledon. Wawrinka and Federer both got bounced during the quarters at last year’s Roland Garros, and then had disastrous Wimblys, with Stani failing to escape the first round, and Fed suffering a shocking defeat in the second round, his worst performance at the grass-court major in more than a decade.
Stani and Fed had good Wimbledon tune-ups last year, with the former capturing 150 points en route to the finals at a warm-up tournament in The Netherlands, and Federer winning 250 for securing the title in Halle. Repeating those performances could prove tricky, but even marginally better showings at Wimbledon – where the award points are orders of magnitude higher than at the tune-ups – could result in significant net point gains for each Swiss.
Sure, Nadal bowed out in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and will almost certanily pick up major points at the All England Club this year, but his near-perfection during last year’s clay court swing means he has little room for error on the dirt this time round. Any slip-up would result in major net point loss. Djoker is hurt. He injured his wrist and has said he will take things day-by-day in the remainder of the lead-up to the French Open, none of which bodes well for bettering his 2013 run to the Roland Garros semis, let alone his finals appearance against Andy Murray in last year’s Wimbledon.
If you run the projections out a little further, things look even better for the Swiss, especially Federer. Despite a semi-final showing at the U.S. Open, which he’ll need to focus on matching, or coming close to matching, Wawrinka did next to nothing between Wimbledon and the hard-court major at Flushing Meadows. He bowed out in the quarters in Gstaad, and in the round-of-32 at the Masters Series events in Montreal and Cincinnati, earning a combined 100 points for his efforts.
|Current Rank||Player||Points to Defend between Wimbledon and end of U.S. Open|
|1||Nadal||4,000 (holy shit!!!)|
|4||Federer||545 (holy shit, again!!!)|
Fed did slightly better in the Wimbledon-U.S. Open interegnum, notching a semi-final birth at a clay-court event in Hamburg, a round-of-16 hiccup in Gstaad, and a quarter-final showing in Cincinnati, garnering 365 points in the process. But this is not remarkable, and it is certainly not what we’d expect if Fed maintains the form he’s displayed thus far in 2014. Moreover, the Swiss master will certainly be revved-up to improve upon his dismal showing in Flushing Meadows, where he bowed out to Tommy “Bore-me-to-death-with-every-ball-you-hit-and-your-utter-lack-of-on-or-off-court-charisma” Robredo in the fourth round.
Translation? Fed, like the Stanimal, has a chance to rack-up some serious net points between London and New York.
The picture isn’t as bright for Rafa and Djoker. Set aside the fact that the two faced off in the finals of the U.S. Open, and will have to defend the 2,000 and 1,200 points they earned, respectively, from that effort. Rafa flat out steamrolled his way through the hard-court tune-ups notching victories – and 2,000 award points – in Montreal and Cincinnati, whereas Djoker earned a solid, if slightly disappointing, semi-final and quarter-final birth in those tournaments, respectively, amassing 540 points in doing so.
Translation: Muchos puntos posibles para Stanislas y El Fed; para Don Rafa y Señor Nole, pequeños.
Let’s just run the scenario out all the way to the end of 2014. Here, Rafa does a bit better, Djoker’s in trouble, Fed has some work to do, and Wawrinka looks like money.
Between the end of the U.S. Open and the end of the year, Djokovic – perhaps frustrated by his back-to-back losses in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals and inability, for the second consecutive year, to win a major outside of Australia – went balistic, racking-up four tournament victories, including the year-end ATP World Tour Finals, a 24-0 win-loss record, and 4,000 award points. In other words, he was perfect. Anything less than perfect during this stretch in 2014 will result in net point less. Djokovic is screwed.
|Current Rank||Player||Points to Defend between end of U.S. Open and end of 2014||Points to Defend between April 21 and end of 2014|
|2||Djokovic||4,000 (no room for error)||7,850|
|3||Wawrinka||895 (mucho room for error)||3,125|
Rafa did pretty well himself. Despite failing to win a post-U.S. Open title in 2013, Nadal reached two finals and earned 2,020 points, rounding-out a remarkable year that saw him return from a 10-month hiatus starting in June 2012 to tally a 75-7 record in his 2013 campaign.
Federer rallied, sort of, after falling to Robredo at the U.S. Open. He reached the final in Basel, and then battled Djokovic in a three-set defeat at the Masters event in Paris, and then again in round robin play at the World Tour Final. All told, Fed went 12-5 and earned 1,150 in his post-Flushing crusade, a record that will be tough, though verypossible, to match or exceed in 2014.
Wawrinka effectively took the rest of the year off after his devastating, five set loss to Djoker in the U.S. Open semis. Despire qualifying for the year-end Final, he garnered a forgettable 10-7 record and a measly 895 tour points. Miserable at the time, this mediocre point tally will be a sight for sore eyes when Wawrinka comes down the final stretch in 2014.
On balance, in terms of defending points and ascending the rankings over the remainder of 2014, things look up for the Swiss and down for Rafa and Djokofish. With eight months to go, Stani has to defend 7,405 fewer points than Nadal, and 4,725 fewer than Djoker. Fed, for his part, has 7,490 and 4,810 fewer points to back-up than his higher-ranked Spanish and Serbian amigos. Remember, this is coming at a time when Stani is clearly reaching his career peak, and when Fed has shown a sustained resurgence and determination to return to previous heights.
To be sure, surmounting Nadal and Djokovic will prove immensely difficult for the Swiss compatriots. But, with Juan Martín del Potro hobbled by injury and Andy Murray looking utterly uninterested by tennis, Stani and Fed have a better chance to go deep in big-time tournaments than they did a year ago. Remarkable as it may seem, this tiny country of eight million could prove that there’s more to it than chocolate, cozy tax laws, and mountain vistas: In Switzerland, native sons can really hit the ball.