Stan WarwinkaCan Sensitive People be Tough? I couldn’t get past Stan Wawrinka’s raspberry shorts…and, I kept wishing he would just get some acne medication. But to my surprise, I found myself with tears in my eyes as Stan Wawrinka gave his 2016 US Open acceptance speech…emotions I didn’t plan on feeling as I wanted to loudly cheer for the flamboyant, handsome, and talented Frenchmen – Jo-Wilfred Tsonga or Gael Monfils.

Stan started to win me over as I watched him hit his gorgeous flowing one-handed backhand. What pushed me past the raspberry shorts, was seeing Stan’s tears and learning that he seems to be a sensitive soul. In an interview, he admitted he cried from stress, minutes before playing the final and I thought, wow I like this guy. Yet, can someone who openly shares his vulnerability to millions of people be tough enough to beat the world’s #1 player, Novak Djokovic, on the biggest tennis arena? That is the common assumption I have made, as I have struggled with managing my emotions at critical moments in competition. But, Stan proves stands out in a field of top players as someone who can handle the pressure better than anyone.

The 2016 US Open was a weird year. Novak Djokovich had one player default, and two matches that ended with players stopping due to injury. He played against my previously two favorite Frenchmen – Tsonga and Monfils, who completely let me down. Tsonga and Monfils are amazing players to watch because they are both handsome and talented tennis players. Tsonga looks like Muhamad Ali and Monfils like the leader of a regae band with talent oozing out of every limb. Tsonga is a big and powerful server can serve over 130 miles per hour and can hit sweet drop shots; and, Monfils is tennis’s equivalent of a magician with his shot making – hitting winners while running or between his legs. How can you not love them?

Tennis Players Gael Monfils and Jo Wilfried Tsonga

photo credit © Vinod Divakaran

However, both Tsonga and Monfils are known for not playing well in big matches. I was hoping that things had changed, as both had done well in this tournament, with Tsgona making it to the quarterfinals and Monfils to the semi-finals. But, unfortunately, they lived up to their negative stereotype. First, Tsonga lost to Jokavich in the quarterfinals. Although Tsonga play brilliantly in his previous tight match to win against American Jack Sock, when Tsonga played against Novak, he stopped after two sets noting knee pain. Where did that come from? Tsonga was losing and he suddenly has knee pain? Maybe it was there all along, but I don’t know. Next, Monfils played Novak in the semi-finals. Monfils lost the first two sets and seemed to stop trying. He started moving slowly, floating balls over the net and then pummeling others way out of bounds. “Bizarre” was the most commonly used word in the media to describe Monfils’ antics. Novak got so frustrated at one point that he ripped his shirt! Novak lost the third set and then came back and won the match in four sets. When Monfils was asked about his tactics, he said that Novak was too good, so he chose to throw him off balance. As a former competitive tennis player, Monfils’ tactics seem like something a 12 year old boy would do when he realizes he can’t win. Monfils’ attractiveness went way down!

Suddenly, I am starting to look at Mr. Raspberry Shorts in a different light and become more curious about him. According to a recent article in the NY Times article, Stan, being raised on a Swiss farm, was overwhelmed when he first came to NYC many years ago, where everything was too big and too much but slowly he found his way and said it is now one of his favorite places! In the finals, this #3 ranked player was quietly winning without a lot of media attention until he reached the finals and had to play Novak. Everyone was talking about Novak’s run because he only had to play three complete matches (versus the normal six) to be in the finals of the US Open. That is something in my 40 years of watching Grand Slam tournaments that I can’t remember ever witnessing.  In contrast, Stan had to play twice the amount of tennis, 18 hours and six matches, to arrive at the finals, making me wonder will this be a blowout?

Novak starts strong and wins the first set in a close tie breaker 7-6. Then, Stan came back and won the next three: 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Stan seemed a bit tired and off his rhythm at the start of the match, but gradually transformed his play and came up with big serves and ground strokes at the critical points. After the match, Stan credits Novak for pushing him out of his comfort zone to play his best and Novak credits Stan for being the tougher player. That is what Stan does to people, even his rivals – they admire him. 

As someone who is a sensitive person, I am inspired by Stan’s courage and ability to bring his best tennis to the finals. Us sensitive types can get overwhelmed by all the stimulation, noise, and strong emotions that is certainly a huge part of the US Open tennis tournament. Stan has shown that he can stay calm, believe in himself, and push himself outside of his comfort zone without resorting to crazy antics or negative behaviors. Known as Stan the Man by many of his fans, Stan was quoted in the UK Telegraph after winning as saying, “This is amazing, I came here without expectation…I am completely empty now, I had to bring everything against Novak. There was so much emotion, thank you so much.” While I still am not crazy about his raspberry shorts, I am crazy about his ability to channel his apparent sensitive and emotional nature to win. I am now calling him Stan the Sensitive Man


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