Stan Wawrinka’s Unstoppable 1-2 Punch

The effectiveness of the first shot behind the first serve is an underrated statistic. First of all, it is extremely hard to keep track of it despite how easy it is to recognize when it occurs. There are many intangibles, not in the execution of the 1-2 punch itself, but on the consideration of which ones belong to the statistics’ count. Do you consider every single shot that is hit after the opponent returns the ball? Do you consider every winner on that shot when, in some of those points, it was really the serve that got the job done and earned a weak return that sat high inside the service line? What about when you hit a big serve and follow it up with even a bigger shot, yet you still end up hitting one or two more shots to finish the point although you clearly gained the advantage thanks to the serve and the next shot (example: Wawrinka serving, 4-5 in the second set, 0-15)? Do you add that to the statistic? Finally, do you give the same consideration to the shot hit behind a great second serve? These are all subjective approaches, and there are many coaches who keep a close eye on this stat depending on their expectations from their player. It is also why you rarely see the main media offer statistics on this shot.

Wawrinka is a unique case in this category due to his approach to the follow-up shot behind the serve. When he is focused and his game is ticking with the precision of a Swiss clock, he smacks the second shot of the rally following his first serve, regardless of his position in the court. If you want to see a good example of what I mean – and I am sure replays of the match will pop-up on various TV channels over the next 48 hours – watch the 40-30 point at 6-3 3-2. You will see Stan serve, and Tsonga make an above-average return that bounces close to the baseline and pushes Stan back. Yet, Stan will still go for the big forehand winner to the deuce corner (while he is backing up, mind you?), and hit the clean winner somehow. Now, this example was an extreme one, although similar points took place a number of times, both against Tsonga in the semis and Federer in the quarters. The more usual case is when the return falls short due to a powerful serve and Wawrinka simply nails the forehand to the open court or behind the opponent who is recovering from the return corner. Two prime examples are the first and the last points of the 6-3 2-1 game.

Of course, for this simple and efficient game plan to work you need a high first-serve percentage and powerful ground strokes, both of which Stan possesses in his arsenal. On a secondary level, it also helps to avoid double faults. Wawrinka did not commit a double fault until the later stages of the second set (he committed none against his third-round opponent Steve Johnson and against Federer in the quarterfinal). In fact, when Tsonga broke Wawrinka’s serve in the eighth game of the second set, that was the first time the Swiss got broken since his match against Gilles Simon, in the round of 16s. Even as Tsonga won the second set, coming up with a solution to Stan’s 1-2 punch still remained a priority. It was Wawrinka who decided to render his 1-2 punch less of a factor in the second set, by hitting only 31% of his first serves in, after 69% in the first set. In other words, one of the two key components (see the first sentence of this paragraph) of an effective 1-2 punch was missing.

In the crucial third set, Tsonga found his top-class serve that helped him win so many matches in big stages. It was not until his fourth serving game that he lost a point on a first serve. The seventh game constituted a minor turning point for Wawrinka. His serve finally came back and carried him through that game precisely when Tsonga was starting to receive a large amount of amour from the French crowd and was giving some of his own right back at them by holding his fists up. Stan knew the importance of that game and pulled two of his most animated “Come on!” yells, the first one coming after an ace served wide to the deuce side at 30-30. The 4-4 game was another crucial one. Stan’s first serve deserted him through the long game in which Tsonga first made a silly return cross-court forehand winner attempt from far outside the court at 0-30, and then, could not capitalize on two break points later in the game. The tiebreaker was inevitable.

In the tiebreaker, Stan stood tall in the string of grinding points from 1-1 to 4-3, and closed the set out by winning the next three points. When he walked to the bench two sets to one down, Tsonga probably understood how Wawrinka felt at the end of the second set and was asking himself “How did I let this set get away?” After all, the Frenchman served very well throughout the set while the Swiss remained below 50%, and had six break points (of which he converted none) while his opponent did not even garner one.

I reckon, there were many tennis fans who predicted during the third set that, considering the scorching heat in Philippe Chatrier court, the loser of that set would perhaps lose his energy, lower his level of tennis, or even fold in the fourth one. Tsonga did not exactly fold, but slowly faded away after he squandered additional break points away at 1-2 down that would have helped him get back on serve. Wawrinka held his serve for the rest of the set and triumphed, after 3 hours and 46 minutes, by the score of 6/3 6/7 7/6 6/4

At the end of the day, the main story of the match was Wawrinka’s ability to serve-and-finish (and no, that does not equate serve-and-volley) in two shots, and Tsonga’s frustrated attempts at countering that crippling disadvantage in order to find some type of equilibrium. Stan was throwing something at Jo and asking him to deal with it. Jo had two options: either deal with it, or find something else to throw back at Stan and balance the “headache” count. He could do neither. The Swiss now finds himself in his second Major final, first Roland Garros one. A big challenge awaits him, but he has shown enough in the past that he is not to be discarded when it comes to big stages in the Majors. Stan’s unique 1-2 punch helped him build his singular résumé that seems to shine during the weeks of Majors and glimmer for a large majority of the other weeks in the ATP calendar.

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8 thoughts on “Stan Wawrinka’s Unstoppable 1-2 Punch

  1. Thanks Mert. I watched most of it so appreciated your review. It seemed to me all along that Wawrinka was playing the better tennis and that it would have taken exhaustion in the fifth for him to lose. As you point out, he won most of the grinding points.

    I actually enjoyed the Djokovic – Nadal match more. I did not think Nadal was a pushover. In the past he has had a way of coming back but not on Wednesday. To my eyes it was white hot tennis more in the spirit of a semi or a final than a quarter.

    Unfortunately I have to go out to lunch so will miss seeing Djokovic-Murray live but I shall try to record it for future reference.

  2. Well, yes and no.
    I got back from lunch and it was clear from the resumption of the daytime TV programs that tennis was over for the day. But I went straight to the recording and watched the match through without knowing the later scores. As the third set moved on and knowing that in real time tennis was over, I was sure that Djokovic had won. But then Murray came up with that magnificent display that got him the third set. Quite the most spectacular tennis of the match so far. It’s a great one!

    So, now we must wait until tomorrow. It is a pity they do not have lights.

    1. John, you are so right. Djokovic was cruising, playing at an incredible level, then somehow, out of nowhere, Murray raised his game and extended the match. Some of the points from 4-4 to 7-5 in the third set were absolutely dazzling.

      They stopped due to the warning of a storm approaching too, not because it was getting dark (although it was, because it got cloudy and windy all of a sudden). In any case, we will see what happens tomorrow.

  3. Mert,

    Tsonga isn’t up to it mentally. He has all the power and the shots, however for some reason he always loses concentration and I believe it comes from not being mentally tough enough to handles the pressure. What are your thoughts on Tsonga??

    Stan really needs to be mentally switched on more than ever to beat the Joker. If that doesn’t eventuate he will have no chance.

    In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be at Rod Laver Arena to watch the classic 4th round encounter at the AO between Stan the man and the Joker and on that night Stan couldn’t get over the finish line because he was always arguing with himself after losing very important points in the 5th set. Hopefully he won’t do the in the final at RG.

    If Stan wins, he will either win in straight sets or four sets because if it goes to five sets he won’t have the stamina.

    Umit

    1. Stan won in 4 against Djokovic in the final!!! This is a different Stan than in 201 In the last 1,5 years (16 months), he won 2 Majors, 1 Masters 1000 event (Monte-Carlo), and played a big part in Switzerland winning the Davis Cup. He played outrageously well.

      He said in the press conference after the match that once he gets to the quarters or semis (he said that he accumulates energy and form as he advances), anything was possible.

      Your assessment of Tsonga is quite valid. Once he said back a couple of years ago that the top players had something that was “missing in us French” (was answering a question about the lack of top 5 French players). I also believe he lacks motivation, or he should not be satisfied with the career he has had so far (and I realize it is not a bad career but for his talent and athleticism, not enough). Since he played his first Major final in Australia, it seems like his game has not moved forward.

  4. Mert,

    I agree with you. Since the AO final Tsonga’s game hasn’t moved forward at all. Even when RR started coaching him, I thought he would have an impact on Tsonga and it never happened.

    Re this years FO, thanks for all the write ups and I’m still waiting for us to have that drink at the AO :) Speaking of the AO when are you planning to attend the AO??

    Umit

    1. Oh dear.. A never-ending, shameful saga of my tennis-related life: attending the Australian Open. It’s my next big goal in life! I will let you know.

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