The No. 1 Swiss tennis player? It's not who you think

Stanislas Wawrinka still calls countryman Roger Federer 'the best player ever,' but this survivor has persevered past wrenching losses to get to No. 3 in the world. Indian Wells is his proving ground.

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Li Na, Stanislas Wawrinka

Australian Open champions Li Na and Stanislaw Wawrinka pose for a photo at Indian Wells on Sunday. (Nicola Arzani / ATP Tour / March 9, 2014)

The Swiss are represented in men's tennis at this year's BNP Paribas Open by Stanislas Wawrinka and that other guy.

Wawrinka won the recent Australian Open and is now No. 3 in the world rankings. The other guy becomes Mr. Avis in Switzerland now, and as he tries harder, he holds on to No. 8 in the world.

We jest, of course.

Even Wawrinka knows it will take more than one Grand Slam title to displace Roger Federer as the king of Swiss celebrity. Maybe even as the king of tennis, period.

Nor would Wawrinka want to.

"I'm No. 3," Wawrinka says, somewhat meekly, "but Roger is the best player ever…I would never compare myself to him."

If it sounds as though there is some little-brother syndrome there, judge for yourself.

Wawrinka is 28, Federer 32. They have played 16 times and Wawrinka has won once, in the third round of the 2009 Monte Carlo Masters Series tournament. The public and press grumbled about that one because it deprived them of yet another classic Federer-Rafael Nadal final.

"Roger was just coming back from his wedding then," Wawrinka said, "and I think he was tired."

When they teamed to win the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, Federer clearly took over the late stages of the doubles match and served it out. Sunday morning, when the topic of that gold-medal match came up, Wawrinka agreed heartily that "Roger was really something" at the end.

Federer carried the Swiss flag in opening ceremonies at the Athens Olympics in '04 and in Beijing. When the Swiss delegation asked him to carry it again in London in 2012, he suggested somebody else be the flag bearer. He meant Wawrinka, and Wawrinka got to carry it.

Still, there is much more to the current hottest player on the men's tour — 9-1 since the beginning of the year — than merely being a tag-along to Roger Federer.

Wawrinka is the ultimate survivor, a poster boy for hanging in there. He has mastered the art of not despairing. He speaks English, French and Spanish — and is fluent enough in English to nod enthusiastically when asked if he understands the word "perseverance."

It best describes what he has done, who he is.

"I always try to find positives in losses," he said. "It is my way of staying closest to the top players."

His career is written on his left forearm. Literally.

The tattoo says, "Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better."

That was penned by Irish writer Samuel Beckett, a Nobel laureate in literature. It is a perfect summary of the player born in Lausanne, who was No. 55 at the end of 2005 and took until the end of 2013 to crack a year-end top 10 at No. 8.

It seems as if he has played, and lost, more excruciatingly long and frustrating five-set matches than anybody on the tour.

— In '09, he lost a fourth-rounder at Wimbledon in five sets to Andy Murray.

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