Stan Wawrinka admits there were times he was not sure if he’d be “strong enough” to find his way back during his lengthy break from tennis due to knee surgery he underwent last August.
The Swiss former world No. 3 spent six months on the sidelines from Wimbledon last year until January. He came back to action at the Australian Open but played just seven matches in four tournaments before stopping again in February.
The three-time Grand Slam champion finally made his return on Sunday, nearly three months later, losing 6-4, 6-4 to American Steve Johnson in the Rome Masters first round.
“It was really tough, some tough moments, especially seven months after surgery you still have pain, you still have things you cannot do, you question yourself a lot,” confessed Wawrinka when addressing reporters in the Italian capital on Sunday.
“I had some days I wasn’t sure I would be strong enough to keep working and to keep trying. But I had the chance to have a great team around me and that really helped me to get through those tough days that you need to keep going through fitness, training with the pain, and keep pushing.
“Trying to put all the negative stuff outside, see the line and keep being patient. It’s completely different now, where I am mentally because since two weeks I could practice full, almost without any pain.
“So it’s enjoyable to see that and now I can finally really talk about tennis, focus about my game, trying to improve, trying to find my game and that’s really good after so long.”
Wawrinka dedicated the majority of the past three months to working on his fitness, and says he only started practicing tennis full on 12 days ago.
He reunited with his former coach Magnus Norman, who had parted ways with him in October last year, and Wawrinka is hopeful they will continue to work together until the end of the season.
“We will see,” Wawrinka said when asked whether his reunion with Norman is a long-term arrangement.
“He came to Switzerland when I started practicing full in tennis, only two weeks ago, to help the team and since then we’re still seeing how it’s going to happen. But for sure he’s going to keep working with me hopefully the full year.”
In retrospect, returning at the Australian Open seemed premature for Wawrinka but he explained that it was necessary to test himself in matches to see how his knee would react.
He is disappointed by his defeat to Johnson, but is pleased with his level.
Wawrinka has a lot of points to defend this upcoming stretch, having won Geneva last year and reached the final of the French Open. But he’s trying not to put too much pressure on himself in his comeback and knows that patience will be key for him.
“I need to really be patient and accept a loss like today even if I’m frustrated and I feel like I could have won the match today,” said the 33-year-old.
“I have to be patient with what’s going to happen the next few months. But at the same time I’m pushing myself to get some wins, get some matches, and try to play as many tournaments as I can because I’ve been practicing enough for the last few months.
“Now I just want to play matches, get my rhythm, get ready mentally on those important points and I know that it can turn quickly. So I’m focusing on trying to do that.”
He added: “Honestly if I look at my level in practice, physically and also tennis, I think I’m close to my top level. Still I have a lot of work to do, I still need a lot of time to play matches, keep trying to play week after week to find the confidence back because it can take time. We can see with other players coming back from long and tough injuries, it’s never easy.
“It’s not only about physical or tennis, but also mentally to find confidence. I need to patient. But I’m positive because my level is really high.”
The top seed, who opens his Rome campaign against either Fernando Verdasco or Damir Dzumhur, was on a 50-set, 21-match winning streak on clay heading into his match against Thiem, before the Austrian halted his progress.
Nadal dismissed the notion that he could now have less pressure in Paris in two weeks’ time now that the burden of the streak is no longer there.
“If it’s less pressure for me?” Nadal quizzed a reporter.
“I really don’t care. Of course will be much better to have the full pressure because I won all the matches.
“These kind of things… I don’t know if you understand a little bit about the sport in general but you know, after 14 years being in the position that I’ve been fighting for important things. I can lose, I can win, but of course the loss last week is not going to help me for Roland Garros and of course the defeat of last week will not go against my possibilities in Roland Garros.
“That’s the real thing in my opinion. But of course it’s better to win all the matches, not because I won more I have more pressure. Normally it’s the opposite, when you win more you have less pressure.”
Targeting an eighth title at the Foro Italico in Rome, Nadal can move back to No. 1 in the world if he wins the trophy. He assures his sole focus is currently on this current tournament, despite the fact that Roland Garros is just around the corner.
“I’m here to play and then I’m going to try to win. That’s the real thing. I never considered any of these events like a preparation for another one. I never approached not one event like an approach for Roland Garros. Every tournament is very important in itself and for me even more because I have a great story in all these events,” said the 31-year-old.
“I won here seven times and for me it’s very special always to play here in these tournaments. I can win Roland Garros losing here, and I can win Roland Garros winning here. I don’t think what’s going to happen here is going to have a big impact on what can happen in two weeks, but there’s one thing that is 100 per cent sure: I’m not thinking about Roland Garros when I’m here, I’m thinking only about Rome.”
Nadal’s most recent title in Rome came in 2013. He was runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2014, and fell at the quarter-final stage in each of the last three years.
Tennis champ Roger Federer was on hand to open a new Rolex boutique in Dubai Mall.
The 36-year-old, set to regain his world number one status tomorrow, is currently skipping the clay season to make sure he’s in tip-top shape for the upcoming Wimbledon championships. Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion, is enjoying some downtime in the UAE before heading to the UK to defend his title in July.
Located in the Fashion Avenue wing, the latest extension of the Dubai Mall, the new store is the largest Rolex shop in the world. Inside the three-floor retail space customers can visit the Rolex Experience, an area encapsulating the brand and its history with the upper level dedicated solely to the discovery of the brand. It also features digital screens showing the Rolex heritage, watches, manufacture process. There’s also a screening room, exhibition space, reception area and lounge.
“We are honoured to partner with Rolex on this major endeavour that represents a landmark for our retail operation which, over half a century, has grown from a single shop in Souk Bur Dubai to more than 65 watch boutiques across the UAE, including five Rolex Boutiques and 12 points of sale in Dubai. The latest Rolex Boutique will showcase Rolex watches in spectacular surroundings,” said Abdul Hamied Ahmed Seddiqi, Vice Chairman of Seddiqi Holding.
The Swiss company, headquartered in Geneva, was founded by Hans Wilsdorf in 1905 and pioneered the development of the wristwatch, including producing the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926.