- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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He's a relatively late bloomer, into the ATP World Tour's top 10 for the first time -- at the age of 28, in his 12th year as a professional. And now, Stan "The Man" Wawrinka is into the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals in London, another unprecedented event for the Swiss player.
A few hours later, when Tomas Berdych outlasted Milos Raonic at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris 7-6 (13), 6-4, Wawrinka discovered he would be playing next week. No, that's not a typo; the first-set tiebreaker required a total of 28 points. As a result of Raonic's loss, Richard Gasquet was the eighth and final player to qualify for the London event.
Wawrinka, if he gets in, would be the only one in the eight-player field that has never appeared at the year-end championships.
He's won 30 matches or more in six of the past seven years, but 2013 has been a revelation. Wawrinka's clinching Thursday match -- an emphatic 6-3, 6-2 victory over Nicolas Almagro in the BNP Paribas Masters -- pushed his record to a lofty 49-20. He's earned more than $2 million this year, more than double last year's total. Wawrinka reached at least the quarterfinals of a dozen events and four finals, winning his fourth title in Oeiras, Portugal, defeating David Ferrer. Wawrinka was one of only three players to win 20 matches each on hard courts and clay, joining Rafael Nadal and Ferrer.
At this year's US Open, he produced his best Grand Slam singles effort to date, reaching the semifinals by beating Tomas Berdych in the fourth round and stunning defending champion Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Wawrinka lost to Djokovic in the semifinals, a nasty five-set affair.
In the fourth round of the Australian Open, Wawrinka led Djokovic -- the defending and eventual champion -- 6-1, 5-2, but lost in 12-10 in the fifth set. It was one of the year's best matches and it required 5 hours and 2 minutes.
You could argue that Wawrinka was involved in two of the year's most compelling matches.
It was still Thursday morning in Paris when Wawrinka beat Almagro. ESPN.com spoke with him about an hour later and he was still amped about his victory.
ESPN.com: How are you feeling after nearly clinching that year-end berth in London with wins over Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Almagro?
Stanislas Wawrinka: Yeah, I'm really, really good, for sure. [Laughing] After winning those two matches, I am very happy with the level I was playing today. I'll tell you, I was so nervous before these matches, big-time nervous because of what was at stake. I focused on each point and tried not to think about anything beyond that. The match is the most important thing.
ESPN.com: How did you overcome those nerves?
Stanislas Wawrinka: This year, I have been playing better in these big moments. When I get into those points, I am not so nervous. It's my career and my life these last few years, and I knew I could be better than a top-20 player every year.
ESPN.com: What moment did you now this was possible?
Stanislas Wawrinka: I beat [David] Ferrer in a final and I got to the semifinals of a Slam. It's been about confidence in the court and trusting myself much more. I had to change my thing, and I did. I knew I could make it to London, but I tried not to let that affect my tennis.
ESPN.com: What are your expectations for London, where you're the third Swiss player to qualify for the year-end event? The others are Jakob Hlasek -- and a guy named Federer. It's the first time two Swiss players qualified for the same ATP final.
Stanislas Wawrinka: Yeah, Roger has been there 12 times and this is my first, so he is the real story there. But if that happens, it will be amazing, something really special. They say London is a great tournament, great arena. I usually watch it on TV, so it would be a great experience for me.
ESPN.com: What kind of momentum does this give you going into the 2014 season?
Stanislas Wawrinka: Yeah, I take a lot of positives from this year -- and it's not even over, actually. I'm happy and playing my best tennis. I'm focused on this [Paris] tournament right now and, hopefully, London. Physically, I am at my best; I think I have two, three years to be at my best. I'm really looking forward to next year to see where I can take it.
2dAnna Katherine Clemmons