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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
No Aussie hangover for Wawrinka

By Kamakshi Tandon
Special to ESPN.com

Stanislas Wawrinka might be new at being a Grand Slam champion, but so far, it's hard to tell.

This past week at Indian Wells, he has picked up right where he left off at the Australian Open, handling with ease both his early-round matches and the attention and activity that come with his new stature .

Even if he isn't quite used to it yet. "It took me time to realize really, what I did in [the] Australian Open," said Wawrinka, only the third new men's Grand Slam champion in more than five years. "When I'm saying I won a Grand Slam, it's still strange for me."

But although he might have felt like pinching himself, Wawrinka made some quick adjustments after his big win. He went to Davis Cup the next week as planned, but then pulled out of the ATP event in Rotterdam and gave himself a three-and-a-half-week vacation, hardly touching his rackets for most of it.

Wawrinka went back to Switzerland to be with his wife and daughter, who had not made the trek to Australia. Physically and psychologically, it helped him digest the events of those two weeks. "It was good to be with the family, to take more time for myself," he said.

Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka had tough times, on and off the court. But that's what's made him stronger.
He arrived at Indian Wells well before the tournament began, a bit unsure how he would respond after such a long break. But some training with coach Magnus Norman quickly got him back into the swing. "After five, six days on the practice court with Magnus, I was feeling really good," he said. "I'm really happy with my level. I really think I'm playing great tennis."

Being a Grand Slam champ also comes with greater off-court demands. Wawrinka attended a hockey game, did an interview with CNN and filmed a "SportsCenter" commercial in the days leading up to the California tournament.

"For sure, I have much more to do outside, much more interview, everything to do, but that's part of the game. That's not problem for me," he said.

Just don't ask how he feels about being ranked ahead of Roger Federer. The new world No. 3 has had enough of that question, and he insists it's not something he was going after. But questions about how it feels to win a Grand Slam? No problem. "I think it's great. It's positive, so I can answer many, few, questions if you want," he said.

If there's any advantage to winning a first Grand Slam at 28, it's that Wawrinka feels experienced enough to manage his priorities. He already has had to struggle with balancing things on and off court, going through a separation with his wife and daughter a few years ago before reuniting with them. And, rather than fretting about results, he decided to try to work hard and enjoy his career more.

"I know I'm get[ting] to do too many things outside the court, and I know when to stop or how to organize things," Wawrinka said. "I'm quite relaxed. I know how to focus. It is all about my tennis."

But a Grand Slam title has an impact on a player's tennis, as well, with opponents and spectators seeing the new champ as a bigger figure.

If anyone can provide guidance for Wawrinka, it's his compatriot, friend and doubles partner this week -- 17-time Grand Slam champ Federer.

From his point of view, Wawrinka did the right thing in taking a break after Australia, and he stressed the importance of remaining on course.

"I'm sure he's unbelievably pumped to come back on tour," Federer said. "Now it's just a matter of managing your expectations. It's all about putting in best effort.

"You hope that the results are going to come along. If they don't, you just keep working hard again, you know -- you go back to basics, really."

It was also important to try to see the victory as a spur rather than a burden, Federer added. "Hope he can take the positives out of the Australian Open, clearly, and not see the pressure as something that's annoying. He should use it, embrace it, and probably can use the confidence. Because he should be unbelievably confident right now."

Wawrinka seems to be taking exactly that approach. "I always try to come back at zero when I start the tournament," he said. "I know every match will be difficult. Just trying to focus on what I am doing the best. It's playing tennis, trying to play my best game."

That served him well through the disappointments of last year, when he lost close five-setters to Novak Djokovic at the Australian and US Opens. And it has been serving him well through the successes of this year, which include a 15-0 start with a title at Chennai as well as in the Australian Open.

Next, the question that follows every major breakthrough: What now?

"I'm not sure if I can win a Grand Slam again," he said, laughing. But then again, he also has said he never expected to win one in the first place.

"For sure it's going to be really, really difficult. I know I did it already. I know that I can reach that level, but it's going to be tough. I need to be ready to try to win every match."

One thing he doesn't feel ready for yet is setting his sights on reaching No. 1.

"I'm too far from No. 1," Wawrinka said. "Look at the ranking. Look at Rafa and Novak, [they have been] there since many years. They are winning minimum two Grand Slams every year, making final, semifinal, winning Masters 1000.

"I never won a 500[-level tournament]. I never won a Masters 1000."

But, after working hard for many years to get his game to where it is now, Wawrinka doesn't want to limit himself, either.

"I know my level. I know that I can play great tennis this year. [Winning] first tournament of the year, then the Grand Slam, for sure my confidence is at the top."

And toward the top is also where Wawrinka can be found in men's tennis these days.