ATP Ranking: 3
YTD W-L: 12-3
2017 Titles: 0
H2H vs. Federer: 3-19
SCOUTING REPORT: Only a Wimbledon title remains between 'Stanimal' and the career Grand Slam — evidence that the surging Swiss can bring it on a variety of surfaces, including the North American hard courts.
ATP Ranking: 10
YTD W-L: 12-1
2017 Titles: 1 (Australian Open)
H2H vs. Wawrinka: 19-3
SCOUTING REPORT: Did someone roll the calendar back to 2004? Because Roger is playing with the same youthful exuberance we witnessed when he first snared the year-end No. 1 and won three of four Slams.
“Roger? We all know him, so there’s nothing to say.”
And so goes Stan Wawrinka’s brief-but-on-point abstract on his upcoming all-Swiss BNP Paribas Open clash with Roger Federer — what will be only the fourth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final of his career, but his 23rd matchup with the perceived GOAT.
If anyone knows Federer’s game, it’s Wawrinka. Between Davis Cup, the Olympics, practice sessions and matchplay, he has a true insider’s perspective. His only head-to-head wins — a grand total of three — have all come on clay, including the 2015 Roland Garros quarterfinal. He’s twice lost to Federer on the hard courts of Indian Wells, in the 2011 quarterfinals and 2013 Round of 16. But he isn’t dwelling on past shortfalls. Sunday is a new opportunity.
"It's an amazing result to be in the final here — especially in Indian Wells, one of the best Masters 1000s, to have a chance to play for a trophy," said the No. 3-seeded Wawrinka, who last month withdrew from Rotterdam due to a knee injury, but appears to be playing pain-free tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
While Federer has all but waltzed through the draw, including the historically stacked 'Group of Death' in the bottom quadrant, without dropping so much as a set or a service game, Stan the Man has labored. He needed back-to-back third-set tiebreaks to get past lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka and Dominic Thiem en route to the semis, where he scored a never-in-doubt 6-3, 6-2 win over Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
"When I start to win matches, I start to get the confidence, the good feeling with the ball, with the way I'm playing," he explained. "I play better and better. Normally, by the semifinal, final, I always play good matches. That doesn't mean I always win, but I know that I'm going to play some good tennis."
After dominating chief rival Rafael Nadal in the fourth round 6-2, 6-3, Federer benefited from a walkover when Aussie Nick Kyrgios pulled out with an illness. He then went on to defeat the top-ranked American, Jack Sock, 6-1, 7-6(4), booking a spot in his seventh BNP Paribas Open final. He’s chasing his fifth title.
Despite his advantage in career head-to-heads with Wawrinka, Federer — who in January captured his record 18th Slam crown — doesn’t see it as a one-sided affair.
“I'm not sure if it's a good matchup,” said Federer, who is seeking his 90th career title and 25th at a Masters 1000 event. “A lot of those matches came early when I was the overwhelming favorite when I was No. 1, and he was No. 30 in the world and his game was based heavily on the clay courts. I sneaked in a lot of victories there in the beginning. In recent times, I thought we played a lot of close matches, and he was also able to dominate me over a set or two. So I don't see it per se as a huge advantage. I think he's cleaned up his game really nice on the faster courts.”
“I think he does a really nice job of defending and then going from defense to offense,” he added. “He's improved his serve. Especially as he goes deeper in the tournament, his confidence builds. That's when he's harder to stop. I have variation. I have an offensive mindset that's in my DNA. And sometimes for a player like Stan, he likes to have a bit more time and I can maybe rush him. But we'll see if that's possible tomorrow.”
Wawrinka was but a promising junior from Lausanne when he first practiced with Federer at the Swiss National Tennis Center, a one-surface wonder with a roundhouse of a one-handed backhand who played well back of the baseline. Already the ATP World Tour’s top ranked player, Federer was surprised at how easily Wawrinka was able to keep up with him.
“I was very impressed very quickly,” he remembered.
“I have been mighty impressed how he's made his game grow, because I thought forever he'd be just a clay-court guy,” Federer continued. “He showed how it can be done and through hard work. I'm his No. 1 fan when it comes to his success and how he's been able to do it, because we've worked with the same fitness coach [Pierre Paganini] for many years now. So I know a lot of what's going on in Stan's life and he knows a lot of what's going on in mine. We always support one another.”
Regardless of who wins on Sunday, they’ll become the oldest titlist in tournament history, eclipsing American Jimmy Connors, who was 31 years, five months when he topped Frenchman Yannick Noah in the 1984 final.