In tennis, a bagel is defined as any set won by the score of six games to zip. It ain’t easy, winning a set that way, 6-0, not in high school JV, not at your local park against the retiree with the arthritic knees.
Imagine how tough it is at the professional level, where every other game you're staring down 130-mph serves aimed at your gut with more silky spin than a Brooks Brothers cashmere cardigan.
But Stanislas Wawrinka, the hottest thing going in tennis after his recent Australian Open welcome-to-the-party title, got a first-set bagel in his match with Andreas Seppi at the BNP Paribas Open on Monday. Seppi, you should know, is a pretty dang good player. The 29th-seeded Italian has a compact certitude to his game. He can compete with anyone on the ATP Tour.
But there's a difference between competing and winning and it separates the elite, top four or five players from the everyone else. Wawrinka -- now at the height of confidence, now at the peak of his clearly considerable talent -- is suddenly elite. He blew past Seppi in as remarkable a display as has been seen at this tournament so far.
There were running forehand winners, unreturnables to every corner, spins, dices, slices and soft, feathery drops. The best part of Wawrinka’s game, the shot that won him the Australian Open only a few weeks ago, is his one-handed backhand. Few pros, male or female, hit the one-handed backhand anymore. Wawrinka's isn't just uncommon, it's a singular marvel, as clean and rhythmic as any shot, any trademark move, in any sport right now.
Behind that backhand, Wawrinka spent the warm afternoon walloping poor Seppi around like Seppi was a piñata. The first set was over before the crowd even began settling down. It took less than 30 minutes. For Wawrinka, it was beautiful. For Seppi, who began offering only meager resistance, kind of pitifully sad.
Soon it was 6-0, 5-2. The loping Italian served wide. Wawrinka stepped around a backhand and flung the face of his racket at the ball with a kind of blinding force. It was his forehand this time, a poleaxed return that flew past Seppi and landed in the corner. Game. Set. Match. Bagel included.
Barrel-chested Wawrinka, the new Swiss No. 1 as Times colleague Bill Dwyre pointed out in his recent column, is as legit a contender for this title as can be.
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