I couldn’t believe the amount of crap Stanislas Wawrinka got just for taking a bathroom-break (bad pun intended). Even experienced commentators started talking about his “gamesmanship” for taking a bathroom break in the middle of the tense fifth set. I almost expected one of them to run out onto the court and threaten to ram a ball down his throat. So much hate for one of the most non-drama guys you could find on the tour. What gives?
What gives is that the only American man left in the draw was about to get his ass kicked. In fact, he should have gotten his ass spanked in straight sets. Wawrinka should get properly chewed out by his new coach (Peter Lundgren, Federer’s old coach) for having to play five sets. After all, this is the same Wawrinka who just finished beating the far more talented Andy Murray. So why did he struggle so much to put Querrey away?
Under different circumstances I would factor in the partisan crowd. But the truth is that the crowd was not much of a deciding factor today. For the most part, they did not seem to realize until it was too late that this was the last American man standing. Maybe it’s because Querrey doesn’t have the kind of sparkle that makes crowds get excited. He is no Gael Monfils who seduces the audience and has them screaming for him. Querrey is more introverted, a strong and amiable team player whose best results have come under Patrick McEnroe’s tutelage as Davis Cup captain.
But I believe that a major factor in Wawrinka’s difficulties today was that he was not fully recovered from the grueling four-hour match against Andy Murray, which he came away from with a thigh injury. Between this and spending over eight hours on court for his last two matches, Wawrinka goes into the next round at a decided disadvantage against Mikhail Youzhny. The Russian is no Sam Querrey.
Because the simple truth is that Querrey’s lack of variety was seriously exposed in the fifth set. The wind was blowing so hard that neither player could rely on getting aces or baseline winners which is all that Querrey seems to know how to do. And then, his tension apparently increasing in the fifth set, Querrey started pushing the ball – the kind of pushing that you see among geriatric players at a country club. And then he started rushing his strokes so much so that the balls became confused and didn’t know if to just collapse wearily into the net or go flying off the court. Querrey committed a ton of errors going for shots that didn’t have a chance in heck of connecting.
The deficits in Querrey’s game were sadly exposed. He cannot volley. His down-the-line backhand needs work, as do his service returns. He doesn’t how to play defensively when this is required. (Defensive play consists of more than just endless rallying, Sam). And like Roddick, he has a tendency to become clumsy and fall over his feet. Watching him (and John Isner), two tall and fit men, choosing to battle it out from the baseline, I can’t help but feel totally depressed for the future of American men’s tennis.
Because sadly, this is what American men’s tennis has been reduced to. I’ve criticized this version of Big Babe tennis as played by Maria Sharapova. The criticism applies even more so for the American men. Roddick has been as much a victim of this as has every other American man on the tour. It’s like no one is teaching junior players how to do anything other than how to develop a big serve and bang away from the baseline. Every girl wants to be Sharapova and every boy wants to be Roddick. How sad.
Wawrinka in the meantime was a much better tactician. Because it was really windy, both men played it safe. But Wawrinka moved in to net to attack the short balls while Querrey was content to just keep on rallying from the baseline. This is why he lost the match today. Not because his opponent took an ill-timed bathroom break.
This is not to say that Wawrinka didn’t have his own share of problems. He clearly seemed to choke in the fourth set, probably becoming too aware of the hugeness of the moment, his first serious Slam breakthrough. But he collected himself and started playing good old-fashioned tennis. A one-handed backhand. Chipping and charging. Soft angled volleys. The topspin forehand giant on the other side of the court didn’t have a clue what to do.
At the end of the day, Wawrinka did not engage in any kind of gamesmanship today. In fact, he had asked the Chair to use the bathroom earlier in the set and was told that he had to wait until the change of service break just before it was his turn to serve. That’s the rule. So with his bladder full after more than four hours on court, Wawrinka sucked it up until the rules allowed him to take a bathroom break. And then he did. That’s all that happened. There was no drama, no gamesmanship, and no cheap tactics.