Matters at one point had gotten so bleak for Stan Wawrinka, the three-time Grand Slam champion feared he might never play a professional match again, let alone compete in this year’s Australian Open. A tough knee injury that kept the 32-year-old out of competition after Wimbledon in 2017 forced him to undergo surgery in August, and since then it has been a battle toward recovery for the Swiss. 

And while his journey is nowhere near over, Wawrinka will pass a major hurdle this fortnight.

“I think the fact that I’m here and I’m going to play the first one [Grand Slam], it’s a big victory,” Wawrinka said. “It’s the best that I could have dreamed when I had the surgery, is to be here sitting in front of you and to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to play the first match’. That’s something really good from my side, especially from the knee. The knee is getting way better. I still have a lot of work to do physically and also tennis-wise to get to my top level… I need to start somewhere anyway.”

Wawrinka admitted that it has been anything but easy getting to this point.

“It’s been six months now and it’s been really tough, to get back to a place where I can play again,” Wawrinka said. “But now, I’m feeling better. I’m slowly getting there. It was a last-minute choice to come here [to Melbourne] for a week and just practise, without even knowing if I could play the event or not. But after a few months being at home, I realise this is the right choice, practising a lot and getting my knee better.”

For Wawrinka, the physical pain that came with the eight weeks he spent on crutches was right on par with the mental anguish he was forced to endure along with it.

“The thing is, it’s always complicated when you were at that (elite) level before, then you get injured, and then you have to deal with the psychological pain as well,” Wawrinka said. “It’s tough to explain because some people think ‘Oh, come on, you have this amazing life, why are you complaining, what’s not to feel great about’? The hardest part is, what should you tell people, and what should you keep to yourself?”

Just being able to lace up his sneakers at this year’s Australian Open is an accomplishment for Wawrinka. The World No. 9 has stayed in constant contact with his doctor since undergoing surgery to make sure he chooses the right time to return, and he feels ready to test himself in Melbourne.

“I think that here’s a good starting point, to get pushed, and to see how I react mentally, and how I’m going to feel when I’m playing these matches.

“There’s always a little risk, for sure, especially starting up again after six months away,” Wawrinka said. “You’re going to get more tight, you’re going to get nervous, you’re not going to feel as comfortable in a match as in practice. But my knee is holding up — that’s most important.”

As for planning beyond the Australian Open, Wawrinka is taking matters one step at a time — the first step in his comeback may prove most important, after all. It all begins in the first round against Ricardas Berankis

“My main goal is first to get to the level I want to be physically,” Wawrinka said. “I know I need a few weeks, maybe a month. I don’t know, I’ll see. That’s my first goal. Then I will decide what will be the next goal.”



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