As players, pundits and fans gear up for men’s semi-finals day at the US Open in New York, we’re all wondering if the clash between Novak Djokovic (Player Bio) and Stanislas Wawrinka (Player Bio) will be as memorable as their legendary Australian Open 2013 encounter.
It could hardly be any more dramatic. In that match, the pair battled for over five hours in the Melbourne heat. Starting on a Sunday night and finishing on Monday morning, they played 62 games and 409 points. Momentum swung slowly and sharply. And all the way, we were treated to one of the best displays of power hitting in years.
To say Wawrinka sprinted out of the blocks is an understatement. He charged to a 6-1, 4-1 lead and looked as if he were channelling a tennis god. Playing ultra-aggressively, even fearlessly, the Swiss’ in-the-zone lights out performance put many in mind of Lukas Rosol’s stunning upset of Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon 2012. The fierce forehand and beautiful one-handed backhand were producing winners that few of us had ever seen before, particularly against a defender as accomplished and indefatigable as Djokovic.
Yet Djokovic came back, as Djokovic tends to do. He sneaked the second set 7-5 and took the third 6-4, running tirelessly to all corners of the court in an effort to counter Wawrinka’s sustained, brilliant, bold hitting. However, just when we thought the match would follow a patented pattern -the underdog catching fire and giving the top seed a scare before submitting – Wawrinka won the fourth set tie-break and the crowd erupted.
At 4-4 in the decider, Wawrinka had four break points and hit an unplayable return on one of them that was called out but may have been in. Yet he opted not to challenge, and Djokovic escaped. The two continued their draining dogfight until the 22nd game of the fifth set, where Djokovic eventually converted his third match point to complete a remarkable 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 12-10 triumph.
Afterwards, a relieved but elated Djokovic recognised that the fourth round duel was an instant classic.
“It’s really hard to find the words to describe the feeling we had tonight, especially in the fifth set,” said the Serb, who ripped off his shirt and let out a primal roar after securing victory. “Stan deserved equally to be the winner of this match.”
A disappointed but candid Wawrinka admitted that he had given all he had, and it still wasn’t quite enough.
“It’s by far the best match I ever play, especially in five sets against the world number one player.”
So can Djokovic and Wawrinka put on a similar spectacle on Arthur Ashe Stadium today? Both are in exquisite form. Djokovic has dropped only one set in the tournament so far and has demolished most of his foes in double quick time. Wawrinka comes into the last four after an emphatic dismissal of defending champion Andy Murray. Djokovic has been serving well, moving smoothly and punishing short balls with relish. Wawrinka has shown that, when feeling confident, he has the game to take down the best in the world.
The conventional thinking goes that Djokovic will be too steady for Wawrinka who, despite flashes of brilliance in an 11-year career, remains unproven on the biggest stages. Djokovic’s commanding 12-2 winning record over the man from Lausanne would appear to back this up.
But Wawrinka won’t be thinking about those dozen losses as he takes to the court today. Instead, he’ll recall the five hours in January when he had the world’s best player on the ropes. This time, he’ll be focused on landing the knockout blow.