Where does Stan Wawrinka fit among the elite of tennis?
NEW YORK — For years, the duo of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated men's tennis.
Along came Novak Djokovic, and suddenly there was a group of stars known as the Big 3, a trio that has won 39 of the past 47 major championships.
And then Andy Murray elbowed his way in at the top, creating what some referred to as a Big 4.
So now where does Stan Wawrinka fit among the sport's elite? After all, his U.S. Open title gives him three Grand Slam trophies, the same total as Murray, and each one came via a victory in the final against the man ranked No. 1 at the time. Should the discussion shift to a Big 5, perhaps?
At least one person says absolutely not: Stan the Man, himself.
"First, I think it's not fair for them to put me there. I think they've been there more than 10 years. ... They've been winning everything, and I think it's just not fair," Wawrinka said Monday, meeting with reporters a day after beating Djokovic 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in the final at Flushing Meadows.
"The Big 4 stays the Big 4, like that," he added with a smile. "I'm me."
Maybe it doesn't matter how Wawrinka is characterized. His accomplishments are worthy enough on their own, without any sort of embellishment or stamp of approval via a status conferred by others.
Wawrinka is ranked No. 3, behind Djokovic and Murray, and ahead of the recently injured Nadal and Federer at the moment. He also has a bit of a confounding overall record.
Yes, Wawrinka owns those three all-important trophies and stands one Wimbledon title away from becoming the ninth man to complete a career Grand Slam; and, yes, he beat Djokovic en route to all three; and, yes, he is 3-0 in major finals; and, yes, he has beaten the owner of the No. 1 ranking in each of those; and, yes, he has won his past 11 tournament finals.
There are, however, some gaps that could use filling.
For one thing, he is 0-19 against whoever is No. 1 in all settings other than a title match at a major. For another, he owns exactly one Masters 1000 title, well behind the pack: Since 2009, Djokovic has 26, Nadal 16, and Federer and Murray 10 apiece.
Wawrinka says that's a big reason he won't put himself in the same class as the others. And he acknowledges he wants to be more consistent throughout the season, faring better in those types of tournaments.
Rod Laver tends to agree, saying Monday that Wawrinka can "prove he's up there" with that other quartet with some better showings at the Masters.
That said, Laver — owner of 11 major titles, and the only two-time winner of a calendar-year Grand Slam — was impressed by what he saw of Wawrinka from the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands Sunday.
"His game has improved. He used to have an OK forehand, and now it really is a weapon. That backhand was always there," Laver said. "It's neat, the way he doesn't let up. Even when it's a tough one, he's still going for 'em. Because you think, 'God, he's just got to mis-hit a few of them when he's down break points.' And he never did."
Wawrinka said Monday he stepped on court the evening earlier knowing he could beat Djokovic and assured his coach, Magnus Norman, as much.
"Just before the match, when we were talking, I told him I had a feeling that, this time, I'm even more confident to beat him. I feel better than him," Wawrinka said. "And it's the first time ever I had that feeling in a tournament and in a match. And maybe that's also one of the reasons I played so well."
At 31, Wawrinka is the oldest U.S. Open men's champion since 1970. He's only the fifth man in the Open era with at least two major titles after 30.
Not bad for a guy who said his goal when he started out was to "maybe one day play a French Open."
Not win it. Just get in the draw.
So labels don't matter to him. Big 4? Big 5? Who cares?
"I don't want to keep talking about being part of them or close (to) them, because I think the Big 4 has to stay the Big 4," Wawrinka said, his shiny silver trophy on the table in front of him. "It's a part of tennis history and it will always be like that, and I think it's great like that."
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich