The losing locker room is never a fun place, but it occasionally has one benefit: sympathy. Take, for instance, Stanislas Wawrinka. If you have a beating heart, you had to feel for him last season. First after his five-set, 5-hour, 2-minute thriller against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, then again seven months later when he fell in five against the very same Novak Djokovic in the US Open semis.
Yes, that nefarious Serb was single-handedly ruining Wawrinka's life.
But that all changed Tuesday in Australia. Wawrinka turned his marathon misfortunes around by taking down Djokovic, who, by all accounts, was the tournament favorite, 9-7 in the fifth to reach the semifinals.
Pity poor Stan? Not anymore. No matter what happens from here on out (Wawrinka plays Tomas Berdych next), he had his four hours of fame. But although Wawrinka finally swept away years of anguish and near misses, not all players have been as fortunate lately. Here are five we should all have some compassion for:
1. David Ferrer
Give the man an A for effort, a B-plus for results and a C-minus when it comes to Slam trophies. Ferrer is a dogged dude. He may not always win, and he doesn't, but who has ever come to the court with so much moxie only to be undone by his bigger, stronger opponents? Last season, Ferrer made a breakthrough of sorts when he reached the French Open final before losing to Nadal in a hasty three-setter. But the real feel-sorry-for-him moment came in a recent interview with Sports360.com when Ferrer said he doesn't think he can win a Slam and that he is going to soften his on-court ambitions. *Sad face.* Well, Ferrer met his modest goals with a four-set loss to Berdych on Tuesday in the Aussie Open quarters.
Hard to feel too bad for a player who has seven Grand Slam titles, four gold medals and enough capital to buy Berdych a decent-looking tennis shirt. But her recent story is one of illness and defeat. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time she made a major quarterfinal and two years before that to see the last time she came away with a winner's trophy. In 2011, she was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an energy-zapping auto-immune disease. Just stepping on the court is a challenge unto itself for her. Here's to one last run before she puts her racket down for good.
3. Ana Ivanovic
Let's see: Ivanovic won a French Open, finished a year as the top-ranked player in the land and is a staple on the most-beautiful-athlete websites. Oh, and she seems like the kind of girl you want to bring home to Mom. But after reaching her summit in 2008, Ivanovic has reached only two major quarterfinals and has been tinkering with her game and coaches almost yearly. But not Craig Kardon, Sven Groeneveld, Heinz Günthardt, Nigel Sears or Nemanja Kontic have been able to get this Serb back to her best. Although, it must be noted, Ivanovic did have an auspicious start to 2014 by stunning Serena Williams at the Aussie before falling in the quarters. Still, if we're going to bring someone home to Mom, we want a champion ...
4. Rafael Nadal
The real 4. Juan Martin del Potro
Oh, Juan. Aren't you supposed to be the one who eviscerates the Big Four stranglehold as we know it? Huge serve, huger forehand. Long legs, longer wingspan. Humble guy, not-so-humble ball-striking skills. Del Potro won the 2009 US Open, but then after suffering a wrist injury, his results have looked a lot like Ferrer's, except not really. While Ferrer is a shoo-in to make the quarterfinals of majors, del Potro has the game to be both a semifinalist, as he was last year at Wimbledon, or a second-round loser, as he was last week in Oz. You should never know with this guy, but given his raw talent and foreboding presence, he should be winning majors. And given that he is such a friendly fella, we're hoping that time comes soon.
5. Every American men's player for the past 11 seasons
Land of the free and home of the busts. No one since Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open title has a Slam. We know this. But what we don't know is why we can't have just a tease once in a while. How far have they fallen? Reaching the second week of a major is considered a remarkable feat. Every Slam, the race is on to see who can be the last Yank standing. At the Aussie, it was Donald Young, who beat out Sam Querrey by a day. A hearty congratulations. But all in all, it's a sorry state for a country that, according to the TIA National Database Court Report, has 270,000 tennis courts, 14,000 tennis facilities and a whole lot of openings in its trophy case.