Three thoughts on Novak Djokovic's epic win over Stanislas Wawrinka
NEW YORK -- Three quick thoughts from No. 1 Novak Djokovic's 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over No. 9-seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the first U.S. Open semifinal on Saturday.
1) Here was a match that evoked a different time, a time before video recording technology, a time when events that went unseen by the masses were recreated on a stage by actors. For those who slept through Wawrinka and Djokovic's epic fourth-round battle in Australia this past January or missed a chance to watch it before the DVR ate it (or didn't read yesterday's recap), the players obliged on Saturday with a near pitch-perfect recreation that lasted 2½ sets. As before, Wawrinka charged out of the gate and blindsided Djokovic in the first set. Then he squandered an early second-set lead that gave Djokovic an opening (albeit a narrow one) to climb back into the match. Then they broke from the script: Wawrinka scored a love break midway through the third set and raced to the advantage (but not before surviving a 35-shot rally). Djokovic rallied back with strong retrieving (winning 40 percent of his points on defense) and his serve -- so steady that Wawrinka never even faced a break point -- on the way to taking the fourth set. When Djokovic broke Wawrinka for a 3-2 lead in the fifth set, that was pretty much that. While the match wasn't quite the thriller that their earlier meeting Down Under was, it definitely ranks among the best of this U.S. Open fortnight so far.
2) Credit Wawrinka for meeting the moment yet again. He was bold, he was aggressive -- he recalled another Swiss great (spacing on the name). Wawrinka's stout net play and a forehand that (to my eye, at least) seems a whole lot bigger since he started with coach Magnus Norman surprised Djokovic yet again in the early going. But even as Wawrinka whizzed shot after shot past him, you got the sense that the Serb would take Wawrinka's best punches fully expecting that he'd run out of steam. That moment came late in the fourth set, when Wawrinka left the court during a medical time out to treat an upper right thigh strain. Seizing on Wawrinka's limited mobility and a first serve that had left the No. 10 seed vulnerable all game (only half of his 192 attempts landed in play; one shudders to think how much better a player Wawrinka would be if he'd only get that stroke fixed), Djokovic pressed home his advantage and pretty much cruised the rest of the way. And just like that, Rope-a-Djok claimed another victim.
3) Looks like the first truly buzzworthy match of the tournament -- Djokovic-Nadal, Number 1 versus Number 2, the best rivalry going in the men's game -- is still on. Nadal owns a sizeable overall head-to-head advantage on the Serb, and a 7-3 edge in their 10 previous meetings at majors. At the U.S. Open they're all square: Nadal beat Djokovic to win the final in 2010; Djokovic returned the favor to claim the '11 cup. If Nadal breaks through against Gasquet as expected (he's 10-0 against the Frenchman), it'll be the final to end all finals. The Royal Rubber. It'll also be on a Monday, so start working on those sick day stories you'll be telling your boss.