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Stricker making the most of wisdom from Swiss giants

  • Dan Imhoff

A pair of marquee Swiss names as idols gave Dominic Stricker ample bargaining power for early rises at ungodly hours or a late start to the school day every January growing up.

When the business end of the Australian Open rolled around each year, a school-aged Stricker was spoilt for choice as he tuned in from outside the Swiss capital, Bern.

As Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka habitually made deep runs at Melbourne Park, Stricker soon made inroads of his own as a promising junior.

It meant the time zone became less an issue when following his Grand Slam-winning countrymen's results, once he too made his way Down Under to compete.

Stricker broke through at junior level at Roland Garros in 2020

"Of course, it was the years I grew up in tennis," the 19-year-old said following his opening-round Australian Open qualifying win on Tuesday. 

"These two were playing amazing here. Stan won, I remember Roger won a few times. I think I watched a lot of matches of them when they played here and always had good memories of them. 

"The final of Stan I remember against Rafa (Nadal), and also a lot of matches of Roger's. I came here as a junior and watched his match against (John) Millman and (Tennys) Sandgren, I think it was, when both matches were pretty close."

An opportunity to share the court with Federer came at the beginning of last season when the 20-time major champion invited his young compatriot to practise with him in Dubai.

Even after his 3-6 6-2 6-1 Grand Slam qualifying debut victory over Mohamed Safwat on Tuesday, Stricker said he drew on lessons imparted during his training block with Federer.

"It was just great to hit two, three weeks with him. He's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in this sport. You learn a lot," Stricker said. 

"He told me to work a lot on my serve, which I did. Even today, maybe it was not my best service game of … the last few months but I think it helped me in important situations and I'm happy that he told me that.

"I practise sometimes with Stan (too), just a few days. Sometimes he invites me to go there. It's also amazing to hit with him. Both of them, it's great to have them in the same country."

Stricker followed in the footsteps of Federer and Wawrinka 15 months ago when he became a junior Grand Slam champion at the 2020 French Open.

Stricker's ranking jumped from 1168 to inside the top 250 last year

To underline his credentials he added the doubles silver salver, but the Swiss teenager was under no illusion that a standout junior career automatically translated to success as a professional.

His results in 2021 at least suggested he was well on the right track.

Having started last season at world No.1168, Stricker slashed that mark to No.246 by year's end.

"I think it's tough. If you win a junior Slam it helps you a lot for the wildcard, so of course it's a great achievement but it's not sure you'll do it as a pro. But I think I had a good year as a pro," he said.

That first year included a maiden Challenger title on home soil in Lugano before an impressive ATP debut in Geneva last May where, as a 419th-ranked wildcard, he defeated former US Open champion Marin Cilic and top-50 opponent Marton Fucsovics to reach the quarterfinals.

Three weeks later on grass, he sprung the biggest upset of his fledgling career when he stunned then-world No.20 Hubert Hurkacz, before a first ATP doubles title in Gstaad with Marc-Andrea Huesler and a successful singles and doubles debut in Davis Cup.

"Actually we said the aim was to be top 500 and it all went pretty quick with the win in Lugano, with the Challenger I won, then yeah, with the big wins at home against Cilic, Fucsovics, all these players, I think I played a great year," Stricker said. 

"Also the doubles, of course, a great, funny week … It was an amazing year and I'm happy about it." 

MORE: AO qualifying: Andorran teen on song again in Melbourne

In claiming his first match in Melbourne, Stricker has already gone one better than his two Swiss idols in their respective Grand Slam qualifying debuts in Australia. 

It's where any comparisons are best left for now as the teenager prepares to face Australian Matt Ebden on Thursday for a final-round qualifying berth.

"Let's see what the tournament brings," Stricker said.