INDIAN WELLS, Calif -- When the men's draw of the BNP Paribas Open was released, the major storyline the draw generated was the caliber of the talent in the bottom quarter, toplined by No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic. The reason for all this hoopla was because top-tier players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin Del Potro, Nick Kyrgios, and Alexander Zverev were all drawn in this quarter, prompting top seed Andy Murray to call it the "toughest draw of all time."
As we reach the business end of the tournament, the main conversation throughout the tournament has been that bottom quarter, which has been dubbed the 'Quarter of Death.' Because of all the talk surrounding this section of the draw, players from the top part of the draw have been able to go about their business unnoticed. One of these players is Stan Wawrinka, who is seeded No. 3. He has quietly moved through his section, a contrast to the players in the heralded quarter.
One of the reasons he's so under the radar could be because of his somewhat lackluster start of the season. He reached the final four of the Brisbane International (lost to Kei Nishikori), the semifinals of the Australian Open where he lost to eventual champion Federer, withdrew from Rotterdam Open with knee injury, and fell in the first round of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
A three-time Grand Slam champion, Wawrinka is competing in his first semifinal here in the California desert -- before this year's event, his best result was reaching the quarterfinals in 2008 where he lost to Djokovic and in 2011 (lost to Federer).
He had straightforward second and third rounds against Italian Paolo Lorenzi and German Philipp Kohlschreiber, respectively. In the round of 16 he fought off a couple of match points in his match against inspired 21-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka. On Thursday the Swiss played No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem, the first seed he's faced, in the quarterfinal. This was his toughest match in this tournament so far, where experience played a big part in the score.
After his tough win, Wawrinka entertained a handful of reporters in his post-match press conference. One of the reporters made a comment that the press room would be packed if the No. 3 seed's name "was Roger or Rafa."
"For me, as I say many times, I always try to look at the positive for a situation," the Swiss responded. "I think growing up, always Roger, behind him, doesn't matter how you want to call it, it was great to me. Best player ever, No. 1 player.
"I also know that all I want is to win tournaments and I'm trying to do that, I think, part of that. If I want to play on center court, I have to win matches. If I want to play in front of a lot of people, I have to win matches."
Wawrinka, indeed, loves playing big matches as he has shown us these past three or four seasons. A late bloomer, he has grown into his talent. He won his first Grand Slam in Australia at the age of 28 in 2014, becoming the oldest first-time men’s Grand Slam champion since 2001. He has won two more Grand Slams since, at Roland Garros in 2015 and the U.S. Open last year.
In his semifinal tomorrow against 21-year-old Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, Wawrinka comes in as the favorite as he leads their head-to-head 2-0. They last faced less than a year ago in the quarterfinals of the Geneva Open, where the home favorite triumphed in straight sets.
Should he and Federer win their matches tomorrow, we'll have ourselves an all-Swiss final, a storyline that will dominate the headlines after they both emerge as victors in their respective matches.