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Why Federer's friend is flying the Swiss flag at London 2012

Story highlights

  • Stanislas Wawrinka will carry Switzerland's Olympic flag for London 2012
  • Fellow gold medalist Roger Federer declined role for opening ceremony
  • They won gold together as a doubles pairing at Beijing Games in 2008
  • Wawrinka has spent most of his tennis career in shadow of his friend Federer

Some of the world's top tennis stars will have the honor of carrying their countries' flags at Friday's opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, but one of the sport's biggest names is taking a back seat.

Not due to injury, like Beijing 2008 singles champion Rafael Nadal -- who has had to relinquish his role as Spain's flag bearer -- but because one of the game's renowned gentlemen thinks it's time to share the prestigious job.

While former world No. 1s Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova will lead the way for Serbia and Russia, Switzerland's team will be led into the Olympic stadium by a gold medalist, and one of the European nation's finest tennis players -- though he's not the one that you'd expect to see in the limelight.

Stanislas Wawrinka has spent his career in the shadow of Roger Federer, but on Friday the eyes of the world will be on the man known as "Stan" -- and not his great friend.

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World No. 1 Federer, the most successful men's tennis player of any era, declined the chance to carry the Swiss flag for the third time.

"I just felt it was important to give someone else a chance. In Switzerland we believe that," the 30-year-old said.

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"I told the Swiss Olympic Committee that they should choose someone else and they chose my partner, Stan Wawrinka. It's a great, great honor for him. I couldn't have won the gold without him, everybody knows that. I think they chose the right guy."

A tale of two careers

Wawrinka has won three tournament titles to Federer's 75, and $5.5 million in prize money to the 16-time grand slam champion's $73 million, but they have one thing in common: an Olympic gold medal.

Four years ago in Beijing, seeded only fourth, the Swiss duo overcame the odds to win the men's doubles competition -- cementing a partnership that began when they started practicing together in the late 1990s.

Wawrinka, nearly four years Federer's junior, was just 16 at the time.

"He was already number six in the world -- after 10 minutes I was completely red!" Wawrinka told CNN's Open Court of his first session with Federer. "I was dead tired, and so nervous to play with him.

"He's the best, it's good for any player. We'll be practicing one week and then playing each other the next, but it's not the fact that we share nationalities that makes playing him hard, it's that he's the best in the world."

American idol

Wawrinka, like Federer, idolized seven-time Wimbledon winner Pete Sampras when he was growing up.

"I wasn't good until I was 17 -- I never even won the Swiss Championship," the 2003 French Open boys' champion said. "Sampras was a great athlete and I was a big fan. That's why I focus on being an allrounder."

Federer matched Sampras' record tally at the All England Club when he beat Andy Murray in this month's final, and Wawrinka will face Britain's world No. 4 in the opening round of the Olympic singles competition.

Despite slipping down the world rankings from a career high of ninth in 2009 to 25th ahead of London 2012, Wawrinka still holds hopes of success.

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"I feel I'm playing the best tennis of my career right now -- the top 40 is just so strong, the strongest it's ever been, maybe. With this top 40 you have to fight for every match. To break back into it is more mental than physical, for sure. It's about confidence," he said

"Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself. It's not good. I'm too tight, because I want to win. That's why I need to focus on what's going on on the court, not off of it."

Family ties

His drop in form coincided with the birth of his first child, daughter Alexia, in 2010, while last year he separated from his wife Ilham Vuilloud.

"Having a daughter and being a tennis pro changes everything. It's hard to train so much, but it's great to see she's interested in what I'm doing -- if I'm playing tennis, she wants to play tennis," he said.

Wawrinka fondly recalls Beijing, where he and Federer beat top-ranked doubles duo Mike and Bob Bryan in the semifinals before winning gold.

"We played our best tennis against the Bryan brothers -- it was the toughest and most important win. Whilst we talked strategy for the finals afterwards, it was made easier knowing we were playing great tennis," he said.

"In the first game I wasn't playing well, but Roger really helped me to be comfortable. We've known each other for so long, but even we were surprised at how easy we found it on the court. It was so natural, and talking helped a lot -- we're very honest around the court."

Their close relationship translated well off the court too, particularly in the Olympic Village.

"At night all of the Swiss athletes would play cards. We played a lot against the soccer team -- we were the best though, you can ask them!"

Togther for life

If Federer's inclusion for China was a foregone conclusion, Wawrinka's presence was anything but guaranteed.

"Roger had a lot of great players to choose from (as a partner). It was a tough choice but in the end he chose me. We were having a great time and I think that's part of the reason we won -- I was happy for him and he was happy for me," he said.

"I was almost crying at the medal ceremony. We had to joke around to stop the tears and start laughing instead. We used our friendship to stop from crying in front of everybody!

"It was the best moment of my career because it wasn't just about tennis. It was about sport, it was about Switzerland, it's a dream for everyone and to share it with someone added to the enjoyment."

Federer will go into London 2012 seeking the one major title that eludes him -- Olympic gold in the singles. He begins his campaign against Colombia's Alejandro Falla, the man who took him to five sets at Wimbledon in 2010.

Federer reached the semifinals as a teenager at Sydney 2000 but lost in the playoff for the bronze, then crashed out in the second round in Athens and the last eight in Beijing.

"The day before the (doubles) quarterfinals Roger lost to James Blake in the singles and I had to prove to him that he could trust me," Wawrinka said.

"Once we started playing well I could tell he got over the loss and said to himself, 'Okay, let's do something in the doubles now.' That was the moment, and now we have a gold medal -- together, for life."


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