Unfair to compare Novak Djokovic run with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, says Wawrinka

But Swiss player says the world No 1 is the man to beat at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Ahmed Rizvi reports.

Stan Wawrinka says Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have also had dominant runs, like the one Novak Djokovic is enjoying currently. Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP
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DUBAI // Stan Wawrinka, the only man to beat Novak Djokovic at a major in the last 14 months, says the Serb is playing at a “different level” than the rest, but the Swiss does not agree with the assessment Rafael Nadal made in Doha last month.

“I know nobody playing tennis like this ever,” a shell-shocked Nadal said after his 6-1, 6-2 loss to Djokovic in the Qatar Open final. “Since I know this sport, I never saw somebody playing at this level. When I say perfect, it’s not one thing in particular. It’s everything.”

Famous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri repeated the same words in Rio de Janeiro last week, saying, “I’ve been coaching for 60 years and he is the most perfect player that I have ever seen. It’s difficult to find a weakness. I would say that Djokovic is the best of the history in terms of game.”

Wawrinka, however, refused to get drawn into the debate and pointed towards Roger Federer’s domination of the the sport at his peak, especially 2005 and 2006 when he lost only nine of his 182 matches across those two seasons for an incredible winning percentage of 95.

Djokovic, who lost to Wawrinka in the French Open final last year but won all the three majors and six Masters 1000 title, lost six of his 88 matches in 2015, for a winning percentage of 93.

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“Djokovic is really strong,” said Wawrinka, the No 2 seed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week. “He is No 1 and he is winning every tournament. He had an amazing last year for sure, but I think if you look at Roger, he had some years that he was losing three matches. Rafa [Nadal] was the same as Novak last year.

“So I just don’t like to compare them. It is tough to know which one was best the best at that time or not. It’s quite impressive what he is doing for sure.”

Wawrinka was particularly impressed with the tennis Djokovic played in the first two sets of his four-set win over Federer in the semi-final of last month’s Australian Open.

“I think it was one of the best matches I saw him play,” said Wawrinka. “When he is playing like that, when he gets the lead and is playing so relaxed and so fast, it’s tough to stay with him.

“But if you look at the match, Roger was trying to change a few things. He got the opportunity to take one set and then he fought to make it a close match. So it was an interesting match.”

With Djokovic starting the way he has – with titles in Doha and Melbourne – pundits are already predicting a repeat of 2015 and even the first calendar grand slam in men’s tennis since Rod Laver won all four majors in 1969. Wawarinka, however, is confident there will be chances for others.

“Djokovic has been playing at a different level from the rest of the players, winning all the big titles… almost, except a few last year,” the Swiss said. “So he is there. He is No 1 by far. He has started the year the way he stopped it last year.

“So it’s going to be tough to beat him this year, for sure, but the guys know, and I am sure, there will be some opportunities.”

Wawrinka’s confidence stems from his Roland Garros performance against Djokovic, but also his tense five-set win over the Serb in the quarterfinal of the 2014 Australian Open. That is Djokovic’s earliest exit in 23 majors, starting with the 2010 Wimbledon.

“We had some tough battles in grand slams, not that tough in best-of-three set matches,” said Wawrinka, who 2-15 win-loss record against Djokovic in best-of-three set matches, but has won two of their last three matches at grand slams. All but one of their six completed clashes at majors have gone to five sets – the 2015 French Open final was decided in four.

“In grand slams, when I play him, I always play my best tennis. The power I have from the backhand, from the baseline, from the forehand, that makes me feel I have a game I can trust and go up to beat him.”

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Coming to Dubai, however, Wawrinka’s form has not been so hot. Starting the year with a title in Chennai, he lost to Milos Raonic in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Returning to the courts in Marseille last week, the world No 5 lost to Paire Benoit in the quarterfinal.

“I lost to Raonic in five sets at the Australian Open,” Wawrinka said. “I wasn’t feeling great. I wasn’t at the top of my job, but I am still positive. I won the Chennai title. That was really good for me. It is really important for me if I can get some trophy. So was something really positive, but let’s see now what’s going to happen in the next few months.

“In general, I think I am playing well, I am moving well, I am doing the right things, so I am sure the results will come.”

Making his first appearance in Dubai since 2008, Wawrinka, however, has picked Djokovic as the man to beat this week.

“I think the last few years, he has lost only to Roger here,” Wawrinka said. “Not a lot of players have beaten him here. Normally, he can play on any surface, so I am sure if he is fit and ready, like he normally is, he is going to be tough to beat.”


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