By Jane Voigt
For exactly four hours they bashed fuzzy yellow balls. And in a flash it was over. Novak Djokovic, the odds on favorite to win his fifth Australian Open title, was out.
Up against the man who dragged their last two meetings to 5-set blockbusters — Melbourne 2013, U. S. Open 2013 — Djokovic became the master of his own undoing, with the last two points sealing his destiny. One, a missed cross-court forehand tight at the net. Two, a duck-of-a forehand volley. As a result Stanislas Wawrinka (No. 8) gleefully accepted his berth into his second consecutive semifinal at a major, having won 26 64 62 36 97.
“I’m really really really really happy,” he said, as he applauded fans in Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic’s stumble in the fifth resembled another match that got away … the semifinal in Roland Garros against Nadal last year. Novak went up a break, lost it, had a close encounter with the net cord, and left the loser. Today he was up a break, lost it, and fumbled two shots at the net. For a player known for steely nerves in the crunch, his faltering at the most crucial moment left fans and pundits baffled, once again.
“He’s been chipping the return for the whole match basically,” Djokovic said, trying to explain why he served-and-vollyed on match point. “And it was actually a good decision. I had a good serve and volley, but didn’t put it away.”
Joe Nardini Jr. saw match point the same way. “Wawrinka was slicing many returns, so Djokovic expected the same.” Nardini added that the weight of Wawrinka’s shots wore down Novak. “Stan was very impressive.”
Both players admitted that the match was a ‘tough battle,’ even though Wawrinka didn’t get in the groove until the middle of the second set after a 26-shot rally went his way. In the fourth, Djokovic perked up after retrieving a lob that sailed far from the baseline and watching Wawrinka shank a put-away forehand volley. In the fifth, Wawrinka felt cramps, too, which could have taxed his game and concentration.
“I had to stay really aggressive,” Wawrinka told the press. “I didn’t want to let him win that one. Got a little bit lucky in the last one. He missed easy shots.”
Wawrinka’s dismal head-to-head record against the No. 2 seed had been 0-14, a lopsided affair. But this victory, although his first, was sweet.
“Yeah, one of [the best] for sure; he’s so tough to beat,” Wawrinka said, as he explained the significance of the victory. “He’s amazing champion. He always fights. Last time he find always solution against me in the fifth set. But, yeah, not tonight.”
Fellow countryman and friend Roger Federer was glued to the match, too. He tweeted, “Doesn’t get much better than this.”
Wawrinka’s ability to concentrate in tough moments on court had been a struggle for years. The media would characterize his game by throwing in the word ‘choke’ at times. A steady top-20 player since 2010, though, Stan’s presence on court ticked upward in the summer of 2012. He reached the top 10 in March 2013 and his current ranking of No. 8 in December. He was invited to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November, where he lost to none other than Novak Djokovic in the semifinal. It was Wawrinka’s first World Tour Final.
“With his performances on the big tournaments, you can say he deserves to be where he is,” Djokovic said. “He deserves to win this match tonight because he’s a great player and he’s mentally matured, and that’s it.”
“I trust myself when I go on court,” Wawrinka said. “I know that I can beat those players.”
Berdych Awaits Wawrinka
Wawrinka’s trust will be tested against Tomas Berdych in the semifinals Thursday evening in Melbourne. The Czech No. 7 seed defeated David Ferrer today 61 64 26 64. Wawrinka and Berdych met four times last year, the most significant comparison when looking forward, was Wawrinka’s win at the U. S. Open in the round of sixteen. However, he also topped the tall Czech in London at the World Tour Finals and in the semifinals of Madrid on clay. If Wawrinka wins he will play in his first Grand Slam final. Says Nardini, “He has a great chance to advance.”
We can imagine that Rafael Nadal must have had his best smile forward, learning his top rival lost. With odds swinging in his favor for the title, Nadal has to keep his calm. He plays Grigor Dimitrov, the lowest seed remaining the in top half at No. 22, Wednesday for a spot in the semifinal. Dimitrov has been touted as the next best thing for a couple years. This opportunity puts him smack in the middle of one of the biggest match mixes of the year. He will try his best not to squander it.
Two of the other big four behemoths contend for the other semifinal berth Wednesday, too. As was pointed out on day one of this Australian Open, the top half of the draw is loaded with talent. Let the entertainment begin.