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Analysis: Rune Wawrinka Grudge Match Indian Wells

By Scoop Malinowski

Last year in Paris Indoors Holger Rune beat Stan Wawrinka 7-3 in the third set tiebreaker and then at the net handshake lectured and humiliated the 18 years younger Dane about being an immature crybaby. The verbal insult by the very popular Wawrinka was highly unusual as he has earned a very positive reputation. And it was odd because Rune did not behave outrageously during the match to provoke such a public rebuke from a veteran elder. It looked more like veteran mind games.

Fast forward to today, Indian Wells the two rivals met again and their duel was another fascinating battle. Wawrinka opened strongly and won the first set 6-2 and Rune was barely competing, he was not himself. Stan earned a match point in the second set however Rune fended it off and even giggled after it to mock Wawrinka who saw the gesture. Rune won the second set 7-5.

The third set was a tight battle and included some borderline gamesmanship with Rune feiging a left foot problem and semi limp. And on another point late in the third when Stan sailed a forehand return long, Rune seemed to mock or taunt the ball before it landed well long. Stan also noticed this probable intentional immaturity by Rune to rub it in after the error.

At 5-5, Rune led 30-love and then missed a forehand up the line winner by an inch. He tightened up after that error and Stan seized his opportunity and stole the game. Rune was enraged as he went back to his chair and feigned swinging his Babolat at his chair after he passed Stan.

Wawrinka served and hit big to hold easily to close out the match. At the handshake, it was civil at first but Rune was waiting… waiting for another lecture or comment by Wawrinka which didn’t come. So Rune looked Wawrinka in the eye and said, “You don’t have anything to say this time? Wawrinka was surprised and replied, “What do you want me to say?” Jim Courier, on Tennis Channel was excited about the possibility that a controversy was about to erupt, saying, “This could get interesting.”

But cooler heads prevailed and nothing happened, other than Rune walking off quickly right by his conqueror as he absorbed the crowd applause.

After the handshake, as Rune was at his chair, Stan did his signature index finger point to his brain, which communicates the what could be perceived as a condescending, arrogant message, “I used my superior brain to outsmart this opponent.”

And it’s very possible, Stan’s lecture to Rune after the Paris loss was the psyche warfare mind game which paid dividends today by making the difference. It’s very possible Wawrinka intentionally irritated and angered Rune in November which today caused him to lose a fraction of his focus, intensity and true character on the court… a crafty veteran move of overwhelming and bullying a younger, less experienced player.

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  • Cory · March 14, 2023 at 9:16 am

    All very interesting indeed. While Rune annoys me in every way, Wawrinka was the crybaby in Paris and Rune was absolutely on-point with his comment at the net yesterday. Did you see the smash by Wawrinka at the net, putting it quite near a baselined Rune when Wawrinka had the whole court to use? Forgot when it was either late in the 2nd or somewhere in the 3rd.

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 14, 2023 at 9:34 am

    Cory I only saw the third set of it but it was very very evident this was one of the most hate-filled clashes in recent ATP memory. Both were ultra focused and fueled and motivated by what Bill Tilden once said: ‘I never lose to someone I hate.’ Rune buckled at the end, as one would expect of a kid to against a grown man who bullied him last time. Wouldn’t mind seeing the rubber match in Miami )

    Bullying of young uppity ambitious players is nothing new in ATP. I was told stories of Roddick bullying young Nishikori and Djokovic, Stepanek intentionally bumped into young Kyrgios at French Open. These are just a few examples that I was told. I’m sure there are many many more examples that have happened but not talked about.



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