From bad shorts to great shots

PARIS -- Stan Wawrinka's long career arc at Roland Garros began 15 some years ago while playing juniors, back when his powerful one-handed backhand could not possibly have been nearly as good as it is now. Although, given teenagers, his shorts might have been just as ugly as they are now.

After three previous junior tournaments, Wawrinka won the boys' title here in 2003 when he was 18. It would not be until he was 30 years old that he would win the men's title, becoming the sixth man in French Open history to win both. (Mats Wilander was the most recent in 1988.) Not that it was an easy 12-year path from junior champ to hoisting the men's trophy on Sunday at Philippe Chatrier after upsetting Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Wawrinka played in the main draw here 10 times previously, advancing to the quarterfinals only once and never beyond. Last year's French Open did not go particularly well; he lost in the first round after having won the Australian championship four months earlier.

This year's tournament did not begin auspiciously, either.

When the Open started, the official Roland Garros website posted a story that detailed Wawrinka's breakup with his wife, including mentions of "lies and breaches of trust.'' Not surprisingly, Wawrinka was not pleased. He called it a "s---" article, complained to the tournament officials and said he hoped "the guy who is supposed to check all the articles on the website is not working anymore for the tournament.''

Nor was it an easy path to the championship. Granted, Wawrinka did not have to face nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, but he did have to play 17-time Grand Slam champ Roger Federer. He beat him in straight sets. And then came his matchup in the final against Djokovic. The two are good friends, but the world's No. 1-ranked player had defeated him 17 times in their 20 career matches, including all but one of their previous 16 meetings.

Few gave Wawrinka a chance. And after Djokovic beat him in the first set, the odds of Wawrinka going on to win looked worse than his shorts.

It was all Wawrinka after that, however, as he won the next three sets and the championship, thanks in large part to his brilliant one-handed backhand.

"He has probably the best one-handed backhand on the tour. No question, one of the best one-handed backhands that I have seen in tennis,'' Djokovic said. "It's very powerful and can create a lot of spin, a lot of rotation on the ball. He can hit it flat down the line. He can block the ball very well. He has a short slice, long slice. He has a lot of variety from that part of his baseline game.''

Using that backhand, Wawrinka broke back, hitting twice as many winners in the match as Djokovic (60 to 30). Perhaps the most amazing of those backhands was the one where he returned a Djokovic shot by sending the ball around the outside of the net post; it curved miraculously into the court for a clean winner. Even Djokovic looked a little stunned by the shot.

"I wanted to be in the match and wanted to gain the upper hand," Wawrinka said. "He was on the baseline, but I knew that I could make the difference because of my shots. I delivered some powerful shots in the middle. I wanted him to play lots of balls. I wanted to put him on the wrong foot, and that was the key to the match.

"I'm very surprised at the way I finished the fourth set. I was relaxed on my backhand side, and I could hit some wonderful backhands.''

Wawrinka said he didn't know whether the next generation of players will develop the one-hand backhand. "If you consider tennis today, there are lots of players with two-handed backhands because conditions are fast,'' he said. "With a two-handed backhand you can return better; you can counter punch; you can block the ball as well. But I'm very happy with my one-handed backhand.''

Perhaps his title Sunday will spark that development. Maybe it won't. But let's just hope his victory will not lead to his shorts becoming popular with the younger -- or older -- generations.

Although anything else about his victory Sunday and his one-handed backhand is well worth revisiting.