Wimbledon, England: Once in a lifetime, everyone should have a Stan Wawrinka experience, the chance to step out of the shadow, take the baton from a world-renowned maestro and say, "Step aside, partner, let me show you how to lead this concerto."
To summarize the pinch-me fantasy Wawrinka still has not awakened from, even as he stirs uneasily, slumping of late: He turned Roger Federer, deified by many as the greatest artist in tennis history, into the second-ranked player in Switzerland.
How can this be such a heartwarming story, generating no apparent rancor to a national reversal of international ranking? The answer, in part, is that Wawrinka and Federer are not only friends, but true partners, teammates on the Swiss Davis Cup squad and doubles gold medalists at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Federer, 3 1/2 years older, became a steady presence in Wawrinka's head, trying to help him raise the level of confidence to that of his estimable skills.
"Roger was pushing him, picking him up," said Magnus Norman, Wawrinka's coach, who was in his corner as Wawrinka transformed himself, at 28, from stubborn challenger to Grand Slam champion. "I don't think being in Roger's shadow actually affected Stan much in a negative way. It's only a positive."
But what about now, after Wawrinka, the proverbial Everyman (if only in the context of world-class tennis), has in the last six months achieved what Federer has not done in two years - won a major and solved the riddle of Rafael Nadal?
Beyond the Williams sisters, serious friendship between insulated Grand Slam contenders is not easy or all that common.
But Wawrinka has said that Federer was among the first to call in January after he thrashed a somewhat ailing Nadal in the Australian Open final. Federer has said that he was high-fiving his wife, Mirka, while watching on television as Wawrinka stormed past Novak Djokovic in the quarters, Tomas Berdych in the semis and Nadal.
Here at Wimbledon, where seeding can be based on past grass-court performance, Wawrinka is No. 5, behind Federer at No. 4. But his ranking rose to No. 3 over the winter, behind Nadal and Djokovic, with Federer this year rallying to fourth after falling out of the top five.
"Actually, we never spoke about that, not even once," Norman said of his man's elevated Swiss status in relation to Federer. Norman was standing outside Court 2 on Tuesday afternoon, after Wawrinka had won his first first-round match and his first at Wimbledon since 2011, a routine 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 takedown of Portugal's Joao Sousa that featured his crackling backhand.
That shot is arguably the best one-hander in tennis, certainly more potent at this point than Federer's. But that is not how Wawrinka measures himself, according to Norman.
"I think that with Stan the thinking is, you have your own career, you're happy you're doing well," he said. "Roger has his career and he's happy that Stan is doing well. They don't compete against each other."
Actually, they do. But to Norman's point, before the last time they met, in the final of the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo in April, Wawrinka and Federer practiced and lunched together before stepping on court for Wawrinka's three-set victory. Coincidentally or not, it was the best Wawrinka result after the Australian Open.
He has since lost to these players in various tournaments, often early: Dusan Lajovic. Kevin Anderson. Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dominic Thiem. Tommy Haas. At the French Open, on his preferred clay court, he was beaten in the first round by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
"For sure, he had a letdown, but I think it's pretty human," Norman said. "He was 28 and worked so hard to get there and all of a sudden you do get there and then it's like, OK, what's next?"
Does he have another Grand Slam victory in his racket? Will he merely be the "Oh, that guy" member of the top 5 for a spell before falling back?
"You know, the ranking doesn't lie," Wawrinka said. "If I'm there, it's because I deserve to be there. I know that my level is there. It was not easy since the Australian Open but I still won a Masters 1000. I'm still there. I still think I can make some big result in a big tournament."
He rankles at the suspicion of his newfound fame being fleeting because, according to Swiss journalists, he worked so hard to attain it. He never resented Federer's fame, or success, only the constant questions. What was Federer really like? What made him great? And during those Davis Cup weekends when Federer opted out, why wasn't he there?
On court, Wawrinka can be hard on himself, become frustrated, overhit. But Norman also said that his unusual childhood - he grew up near Lausanne on a farm where his parents worked with disabled and troubled children - had made him a different breed of player, one who sky-dives for fun, who tattooed the wisdom of Samuel Beckett on his left arm ("Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better").
"When you're a professional athlete, you're living in a bubble but he has the ability to step outside that and discuss things in a way that makes it all really clear," Norman said.
It is called perspective, a proper sense of time and place. Wawrinka understands he is not Federer. But he is No. 3, for now.
"The opponents analyze his game more now, so he needs to improve, keep working," Norman said. "That's what's important, not the questions about Roger."
For such leading questions, the maestro has prepared a stock answer, according to Norman.
"Stan always just says that Roger is the greatest player ever."