Tennis

Friendly fight for Wawrinka and Federer

Friendship takes a back seat when compatriots Federer and Wawrinka meet in the Australian Open semis today

Stan Wawrinka delights in the fact that his favourite nickname, "Stanimal", was given to him by Roger Federer, the man he says is the greatest player to have picked up a tennis racquet.

Together, the Swiss duo teamed up to win an Olympic doubles gold medal at Beijing in 2008 and the country's first and only Davis Cup triumph six years later.

Today, their friendship will take a back seat when they walk out on Rod Laver Arena for an Australian Open semi-final.

Federer, 35, back after six months out, seems back to his best, after beating 10th seed Tomas Berdych, fifth seed Kei Nishikori and then destroying Mischa Zverev, slayer of world No. 1 Andy Murray in the quarter-finals.

While Wawrinka was won just three of their clashes, Federer knows how much his 31-year-old compatriot has progressed since their first meeting indoors in Rotterdam in 2005.

Stan Wawrinka (above) has won just three of his previous clashes against his former mentor and countryman, Roger Federer. PHOTOS: EPA

Back then Wawrinka, he said, struggled with the faster surfaces.

So, the younger Swiss did what anyone would do. He sought advice and Federer became a counsellor of sorts.

Gradually, as the calls became less frequent, Federer realised that Wawrinka had "got it".

"What I like with Stan is if I would tell him something, I felt like he was able to do it," said Federer, a winner of 17 Grand Slams.

"That showed me that he's a great player, that he's got a mind of somebody who understands what I'm trying to explain to him."

Federer said the mentoring had stopped well before Wawrinka won his maiden Grand Slam at the 2014 Australian Open, though the fact he did it at Melbourne Park was a surprise given his early struggles on hard courts.

"If I would have called any Grand Slam for him to win it was always going to be the French, because he moved so effortless on clay. That's his base. That's his DNA really," Federer added.

"I think he's done incredibly well on all the other surfaces, including grass actually, also indoors, hard and fast.

"He's become such a good player, I super respect that, that the guy is able to transform his game around like that, in his footwork, in his mind, also in his game plan."

The world No. 4's transformation now includes two more Grand Slam titles, including last year's US Open.

"I'm more confident with myself. When I step on the court, doesn't matter who I play, I know what I have to do if I want to win," said Wawrinka, who was taken to five sets by Martin Klizan in the first round but has improved with each ensuing match.

"Against Roger, it's always special because he's so good. He's the best player of all time. He has answers for everything.

"But I managed to beat him in a Grand Slam, so we'll see." - REUTERS

tennisRoger FedererSTAN WAWRINKA