Stanislas Wawrinka is a unique personality in the world of professional tennis. The Swiss, whose parents run an organic farm that employs disabled workers, is currently 17th in the ATP rankings, and is as quiet and unassuming off the court as he is powerful and elegant on it.
A close friend of Swiss international Johan Djourou, Wawrinka also has a refreshingly different perspective on football. Indeed, Stan, as he is known, enjoys the sport for the players and the game itself, but without feeling a burning loyalty to any one club in particular. Intrigued, FIFA.com spoke with him to find out more.
FIFA.com: Many tennis players start off playing football before picking up a racket and switching sports. Were you the same?
Stanislas Wawrinka: No, not at all, and I’ve never played for a club. My parents weren’t very sporty, and football wasn’t part of my everyday life. I was never a massive football fan either, but, like everyone else, I used to watch matches on TV. I regret it in some ways, as I think I’d have enjoyed playing football when I was young – even though I’m really rubbish at it now! (laughs).
I grew up surrounded by tennis, so I was obviously more interested in it than football – particularly as it’s the most popular sport. I’m not like some of the other guys on the Tour who look out for the football results, watch games and read match reports every week. I’m happy to follow from afar, and to take a different view. I don’t support one single team enough to behave like a real fan, and the players are the thing I like most about the sport. That said, when there’s a big event like a World Cup or a EURO, I do follow more closely.
What’s your fondest memory from a major international competition?
I’m a big supporter of the Swiss national team, of course, but as I said, I don’t view football in the way that most fans do. That means I can also like other teams, such as France, for example. I’ve followed them since their World Cup victory in 1998, but it was the EURO in 2000 that really made me become a fan. I have very fond memories of it. I loved Les Yeux dans les Bleus [a behind-the-scenes documentary that followed the France team during the 1998 FIFA World Cup™]. I found it really interesting, and it’s the reason for my attachment to the team. As an elite sportsman, I was always going to relate to that kind of documentary.
You mentioned that you appreciate individual players more than clubs. Which players do you admire the most?
I’ve always been a big fan of Thierry Henry. I enjoy watching all the great players, really. But we’re always drawn to some players more than others, and in my case, it’s Titi. He’s my favourite player. I also really liked Luis Figo when he was at Real Madrid. When I was young I used to do a lot of training in Spain; I used to follow La Liga, and I’ve always preferred Real [Madrid] to Barça. I also liked Nicolas Anelka back in the day, with his mysterious edge. And then there was Didier Drogba at Chelsea last year. It was amazing: in his final game, he scored the winning goal [in the penalty shootout] to win the Champions League for his team. It was incredible. I was there in front of my TV, and I supported Chelsea all the way.
Do you ever get the chance to go to stadiums to watch matches?
My schedule doesn’t give me many opportunities to do that. The best time of year is now, from late November to early December. I’m in pre-season training at the moment, so I have more free time than usual. Two years ago, I had the chance to go to the Emirates Stadium for the [London] derby between Arsenal and Chelsea. The Gunners won 3-1.
Your friend, Johan Djourou, was on the winning side that day. How did the pair of you meet, and what kind of relationship do you have with him?
We met on the set of a TV show in Switzerland. We got on well and have stayed friends ever since. I’ve been over to see him several times and we try to stay in touch as much as we can. We have different lifestyles: he stays at home most of the time, whereas I’m always travelling. We chat together often, which is something I really love. In the world of high-level sport, you rarely get the chance to discuss anything in depth. So it’s really great that I’m able to do it with a friend like him. We mainly talk about wider sport-related issues, like dealing with the media and sponsors. He has a daughter the same age as mine, so we also chat about our families.
Finally, we can’t finish this interview without asking you to name your choice for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award. Who would you vote for?
I’ve always been fonder of Real than Barça, so my vote goes to Cristiano Ronaldo. I like his style, but also the arrogant streak that people criticise him for. He wants to win, and I like that.