Novak Djokovic outlasts Stanislas Wawrinka in five-set thriller
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic rallied to beat Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Saturday to advance to his seventh hard-court Grand Slam final in a row.
The 10th-ranked Wawrinka began the match in blistering form. Behind a barrage of winners -- Wawrinka hit 57 winners to 69 unforced errors in the match -- he jumped out to a two sets to one lead before Djokovic cleaned up his game and slowly began to reel in his fatigued opponent.
When the Swiss No. 2 strained his right leg late in the fourth set, causing him to take a medical timeout, his prospects for pulling off the upset seemed doomed. Sure enough, Djokovic broke early in the fifth set and served out the match to book his spot in Monday's final. The victory ensures that Djokovic will remain No. 1 after the U.S. Open.
"Wawrinka was a better player for most of the match because he was aggressive and played better tennis," Djokovic said. "I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through [that] I can actually win."
Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in the final. Nadal ousted Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 in the second semifinal.
Game-by-game analysis of Djokovic's win after the jump.
4:35 p.m. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic plays a merciless service game to close out the 4-hour, 9-minute match advance to his fourth straight U.S. Open final. Huge effort from Wawrinka, who started out so hot and just couldn't sustain it as Djokovic put the squeeze on him. Picking up an upper-leg injury in the fourth set didn't help either.
Tremendous ovation for Wawrinka as he stops for an interview with Mary Jo Fernandez "I gave everything, I fight until the end. It was an amazing experience," he says. He also said Djokovic was "too f****** strong." Not a bad performance in his first Slam semifinal. Tough to get nipped again by Djokovic.
4:29 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads *5-4.
Good hold for Wawrinka. Not much he can do now except protect his serve and hope Djokovic gives him some free points as he tries to serve out the match. He's two holds away from his fourth straight U.S. Open final and seventh straight hard-court Grand Slam final.
Djokovic gets one of those holds thanks to kissing the line on two shots that need a second look from Hawk-Eye. He's not missing much now.
Wawrinka responds with a quick hold, and Djokovic will serve for a spot in the final.
4:18 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks and holds, leads 4-2*.
Djokovic responds to that epic 21-minute game with an easy hold, putting the pressure back on Wawrinka. Sure enough, the Serb earns two break points quickly off three unforced errors from Wawrinka. Wawrinka saves one with a good second serve, and saves another as Djokovic sends a regulation forehand wide. Djokovic is screaming at his camp in anger for missing that shot; it was a horrible miss.
But a fantastic lunging return puts Wawrinka in an awkward position at the net, and he nets the volley. On his eighth break point of the set, Djokovic finally converts when Wawrinka sends a backhand long. Djokovic consolidates the break, and he's two games away from the final.
With the way Wawrinka is moving, this one is pretty much over. Djokovic is in boa constrictor mode now. Wawrinka will have to red-line his shots from here on out.
4:03 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, leads 2-1*.
Who needs to play out the fifth set when you have 30-point games like that? Wawrinka saves five break points, the game goes to deuce 11 times and lasts 21 minutes. The crowd goes absolutely nuts as these two trade some gutsy shot-making, and Wawrinka finally holds when Djokovic misses a forehand.
The shot of the game has to go to Wawrinka. Down break point, he blisters a backhand down the line for a winner. Djokovic can only put his hand on his hips and shake his head. Wawrinka's mentally in this now. He's fist-pumping, strutting and screaming in an attempt to get the crowd into it. Best of all, he's enjoying the moment.
So are all his colleagues:
3:40 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 1-1*.
The good news for the hobbled Wawrinka is that there is a fifth-set tiebreaker in New York, so he won't have to go 12-10 in the fifth like he did in Melbourne. But with Djokovic's game getting better and better as the match progresses, he'll need his best serving to stay in the set and possibly force a tiebreaker, where anything goes. He does well to dig out of a 0-30 hole in his first service game.
As the guys change ends, umpire Enric Molina actually tells Wawrinka that the area around his chair, which includes four discarded rackets and a laundry load of towels, is "too messy." Can you get a code violation for being a slob?
3:32 p.m. ET | Djokovic wins the fourth set to level the match 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 2-6.
Wawrinka actually has a nice look to earn a break point at 30-30 on Djokovic's serve and he does the right thing, stepping into a backhand down the line. Too bad he sprays it wide. He can't believe it. Djokovic holds with an ace, and this match is going to five sets.
Kate Upton is riveted. Maybe.
3:22 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-2*.
After about a six minute break, Wawrinka resumes play and holds at 30. His side-to-side movement looks fine, but when Djokovic drop-shots him, he can't get low enough to get it back. Djokovic continues to test his movement with some heavy balls into the corners and again, Wawrinka looks a step slow. The Serb holds.
According to Dr. Novak, cold water doesn't get to your muscles fast enough. This set looks to be going to Novak quickly. I'm wondering if Wawrinka was given painkillers for his leg. If so, he'll need to buy some time for them to kick in for a fifth set.
3:12 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-1*.
Wawrinka holds to get on the board, but Djokovic is back to being cool as a cucumber. Through three service games, he's lost just three points on his serve, and he's gone from being virtually winless on his second serve in the first set to going six-for-six so far in the fourth. It's amazing how loose you can be with that early break in hand.
Wawrinka calls for the trainer at the changeover. It looks like he's tweaked his upper right leg. He'll leave the court to get it taped up.
A play of course on the now-famous "Iron Stan" comic that ran in the Swiss papers this week.
3:00 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads 3-0*.
How did Wawrinka take that last set despite hitting 14 unforced to just seven winners and looking low on energy? The stats don't really tell the story on that one, as it was just a horrific game that Djokovic played at 3-4 to essentially break himself and give Wawrinka a chance to serve it out.
So of course it's Wawrinka's turn to gift Djokovic a break. He falls to 0-40 on his first service game of the set, saves two break points, but then double-faults to lose the game.
Now it's Wawrinka's turn to blow off some steam -- he throws his racket to the ground after hitting a backhand error. It's his second code violation of the match so he gets a point penalty. He seems fine with it, and gets his money's worth, thwacking the racket again for good measure as he grabs a new stick. He loses the game at 15.
2:48 p.m. ET | Wawrinka takes the third set, leads 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
Wawrinka breaks out of nowhere thanks to the worst service game Djokovic has played all day. Three unforced errors from Djokovic and Wawrinka breaks at love and will serve for the set.
That was unexpected. Djokovic was broken just five times coming into this match and he's now been broken five times in this match.
Djokovic gets to 30-all on Wawrinka's serve, but the Swiss wins a 35-ball rally as Djokovic puts a drop shot into the net, and then serves it out with an ace. Wawrinka turns to his box and points to his head.
Well that was a ridiculous turn of events. Djokovic doesn't know what hit him. None of us do. Not even Agent Mulder:
2:38 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, leads 4-3*.
After a second set that lasted 68 minutes, this third set is motoring right along. The two get to 3-3 in 28 minutes, with only the first game going to deuce.
With Wawrinka serving, a Djokovic forehand that would have given him double break-point barely misses. Wawrinka then wins a 29-shot rally to earn game point and Djokovic can only smile as he sucks wind. A good wide serve and Wawrinks holds.
So far, after two sets in which he hit more winners than errors, Wawrinka has hit 5 winners to 13 unforced errors in this set.
2:29 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, leads 3-2*.
Both men settling down a bit early in this third set. They continue to swap holds, but Wawrinka is missing a little bit more. His intensity has dropped a bit but so far Djokovic hasn't made him pay.
Edgy, Novak? According to the ATP, Djokovic is 21-24 at the Slams when he loses in the first set. He's the king of comebacks, so I don't think he was panicking at all after dropping that first set.
2:21 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, leads 2-1*.
Prime opportunity for a let-down by Wawrinka, who double-faults at 30-all to give Djokovic a break point, but he fends it off with some great serving and hitting. Both men exchange holds going into the changeover.
Looking back at that second set, while Wawrinka wobbled a little bit late in the set, the story was Djokovic's ability to clean up his game put more pressure on Wawrinka on the baseline. He stopped trying to hit the big winner and instead got more spin on the ball and placed it deeper in the court. Sure, Wawrinka hit some jaw-dropping winners, but it was still a death by a thousand cuts.
Here's the stat-line for the second set:
Djokovic: 2 aces, 0 double faults (as opposed to four on key points in the first set), 78 percent first serves, and 78 percent win percentage on his second serve, a huge improvement of 11 percent in the first set. He also came out with a positive differential, with 12 winners to 8 unforced errors, a huge swing form being -8 in the first set.
Wawrinka: 3 aces, 2 double-faults, 52 percent first serves, and he hit 21 winners to 19 unforced errors. Not a bad line, but it was those two double-faults that killed him. If he can continue to get his first serve percentage up (he was serving under 40 percent in the first set) he'll keep Djokovic out of his service games.
2:07 p.m. ET | Djokovic wins the second set 7-6 (4).
1-0, Djokovic: A forehand mishit actually ends up being the shot that breaks open the rally for Djokovic.
2-0, Djokovic: Djokovic gets the minibreak with a Wawrinka forehand error.
2-1, Djokovic: Wawrinka gets on the board with a good approach shot, which Djokovic lunges for and sends wide.
2-2, tied: Wawrinka gets the minibreak back as Djokovic charges the net and Stan whips one right at his feet.
3-2, Djokovic: Good serve from the Serb and Wawrinka sends the backhand return long.
4-2, Djokovic: Ouch. Double-fault Wawrinka. He hadn't double-faulted all match until the last 15 minutes, and that's his second of the match.
4-3, Djokovic: 27-shot rally ended by Wawrinka's 17th forehand winner. Just stepped in and clocked it cross-court as though he was just sick and tired of rallying.
5-3, Djokovic: Now it's Djokovic's turn to blast a forehand winner. It's just his 7th, but it's a strong inside-out forehand winner.
6-3, Djokovic: Backhand slice into the net.
6-4, Djokovic: Djokovic snatches at a forehand and puts it into the middle of the net. Nervy.
7-4: Not the right time to go for the serve and volley, Stan. Djokovic passes him with ease on the return.
One set all. Boy, does this feel a lot like Melbourne.
1:58 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, tied 6-6.
Incredible 22-shot rally that ends with a some sliding cat-and-mouse action at the net, but Wawrinka pushes a forehand volley long. That would have given him the hold but no bother, he eventually holds despite giving Djokovic a look at deuce. Huge game for him to stop that run of three games.
Djokovic responds with a solid hold. He's got his teeth into the match now. Needless to say (but I will say it anyway) this set is huge for Wawrinka. He holds in response and we're into a tiebreak.
1:44 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads 5-4*.
Oh hey look, Norm MacDonald is watching the match:
Indeed he does, Norm, and he gets it. One odd giveaway I've noticed with Djokovic over the years is the minute he begins to smile on court he somehow finds another level. Sure enough, he hits a bad error during Wawrinka's service game and smiles ruefully at his box. Then he ends up breaking when Wawrinka shanks a forehand.
Note: Wawrinka led 6-1, 5-2 in Australia, lost five straight games to lose the set and then eventually lost the match.
Djokovic sends down a statement with a love hold, and that's three-straight games to the Serb. Just like that, Wawrinka will serve to stay in the second set.
1:35 p.m. ET | Wawrinka holds, leads *4-3.
Djokovic gets a code violation for coaching. I hope his box was yelling at him to smash his racket and release his rage because that's what he needs to do.
Wawrinka is just going about his business, playing fantastic tennis. The best thing about this match so far for Wawrinka is that it's nothing like the Australian Open. With that match, you got the sense that he was playing out of his mind to stay with Djokovic. Today, much like his match against Andy Murray, Wawrinka is just playing a solid, good match. He's playing so clean and giving Djokovic few free points.
Djokovic holds with his fourth ace of the match.
1:28 p.m. ET | Wawrinka breaks, leads *3-2.
Djokovic is seething. He's already earned some jeers from the crowd for angrily smacking a ball into the photographer's pit. Hey, if Murray can smash a racket in frustration against Wawrinka, so can Novak. It might do him some good.
Once again, Djokovic gets break point and can't convert, sending a return into the net.
"This is going to catch up with Stan," John McEnroe says, referring to his sub-40 percent first serve percentage. "He can't keep serving like this and keep getting away with it. This is probably as poor as serving as you'll see from a guy who's still winning a match."
Djokovic earns another break point and Wawrinka saves it with a tremendous point, crushing a running forehand down the line to to from defense to offense in one stroke. It's as though this guy has practiced with Roger Federer or something....
Break Point No. 3 for Djokovic as Wawrinka sends a backhand long. Djokovic blasts a forehand long and Wawrinka gets out of jail again. That was a 19 point game. Remember it.
Sublime game from Wawrinka to earn a break point on Djokovic's next service game. He even has the gall to send backhand slice after backslice to Djokovic, daring him to unleash a forehand, and when he gets a short ball he can hit, Wawrinka unloads on two forehands to win the point. To the extent the Swiss have swagger, Wawrinka has the monopoly right now. He eventually breaks to lead 3-2 when Djokovic hits his 20th unforced error of the match.
1:09 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
Djokovic starts the second the way he started the first set, with a hold of serve. Wawrinka responds with a hold of his own but he sent a message in that game that he's not going anywhere. He absolutely blistered a forehand winner when Djokovic looked to have pulled him wide enough to win the point, then he want backhand to backhand with Djokovic until he finally took control of the rally with his forehand and bullied Djokovic off the court. That was an impressive hold.
12:58 p.m. ET | Wawrinka wins the first set 6-2 in 34 minutes.
Wawrinka holds to 15 and takes the set. But let's take a look at the numbers to show just how poor that set was (and really, it's not Stan's fault):
Djokovic: 2 aces, 4 double-faults, winning 1 of 9 points on his second serve (11 percent), 6 winners, 14 unforced errors.
Wawrinka: 1 ace, 0 double-faults, 36 percent first serves in, 70 percent first serves won, 56 percent second serves won, 10 winners, 6 unforced errors.
So Wawrinka just took that set 6-2 over the best returner in the game while serving at 36 percent. That's really bad, Novak.
12:55 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, Wawrinka breaks back, leads *5-2.
There's a blink by Wawrinka. He builds a 40-15 lead but Djokovic is able to claw back and earn two break points, converting the second one when Wawrinka sends a backhand long. Djokovic has already changed rackets and is struggling with his range. Wawrinka gifted that break back with some loose errors.
And then the No. 1 gives it all back. Two double-faults including one on triple break point and Djokovic is broken for the third time this set. You didn't see this coming after his first service game, which also happens to be the last time he's held serve this match. Flat, unfocused, tense, any and all words we usually use to describe a guy playing bad tennis could be used for Novak right now.
12:42 p.m. ET | Wawrinka breaks again, leads *4-1.
Two loose errors from Wawrinka to fall into a 0-30 hole but some big hitting off his forehand wing gets him to 30-all. Another backhand error from Djokovic and Wawrinka eventually consolidates the break.
Already the court positioning between these two guys is a big different from their Australian Open match. Djokovic is standing on the baseline and it's Wawrinka who's giving himself some cushion, about a yard and a half behind the baseline. With the swirling conditions that's not a bad play for Wawrinka to start the match. Djokovic is the one who's trying to hit the cover off the ball right now and he's gifting far too many points with errors. He already has twice as many unforced errors (8) than Wawrinka (4).
Djokovic throws in his second double-fault of the match to give Wawrinka two break points. He earns another break with a rocket running forehand he yanks crosscourt for the winner.
Another break to Wawrinka. Remember, he took the first set in Australia 6-1 in 25 minutes. Looks on the verge of doing the same here.
12:33 p.m. ET | Wawrinka breaks, leads *2-1.
Easy and decisive love hold for Djokovic to start. He's been broken just five times in five matches this tournament. Two aces and a service winner in that game. Wawrinka barely touched the ball.
Wawrinka responds with a hold at 15, thanks to two forehand winners and punctuated with an ace. Sharp start for both.
Or perhaps I spoke too soon. Djokovic goes up 40-30 but two backhand unforced errors give Wawrinka his first break point of the match. Djokovic saves it but gives up another break point with a double-fault. Djokovic clips the tape with a forehand, and it sails long.
Break Wawrinka. Game on.
12:15 p.m. ET | Warm up
It's a sunny day, Djokovic is starting with his baseball cap and Wawrinka is wearing his trademark warpaint. Honestly, I'm not going to make fun of the guy for using sunscreen. I've been regularly shocked to hear how many players refuse to use any. Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic, I'm looking at you.
In addition to the basic stuff at stake -- you know, a major final -- the No. 1 ranking is pretty much on the line here for Djokovic. If he advances to the final, he'll retain the No. 1 ranking after the tournament. If he loses, Nadal can take over the top spot if he wins the title. The idea that we're even talking about Nadal and the No. 1 ranking as early as September is a remarkable reflection on his 2013 season. He's challenging for the top spot without even having competed at the Australian Open.
Djokovic's streak of 14 straight Slam semifinals is second to Roger Federer's 23, a run snapped by Robin Soderling at the 2010 French Open. The Serb has also reached the semifinals of all four Slams for the third straight year. The only man to do that is that pesky Federer guy, who did it five times from 2005 to 2009.
As for Wawrinka, 28, it's great to see him have a breakout year during the latter half of his career. With players succeeding more in their late 20s and with the lack of any breakout young stars over the last few years, it's getting time to readjust our expectations as to when the window for a player's best tennis actually occurs.
Djokovic will serve first. Ready? Play.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic and ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka will meet in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Saturday. CBS will televise the match, which will begin at noon on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The winner will face Rafael Nadal or Richard Gasquet in Monday's final.
Djokovic, 26, is seeking to advance to his fourth U.S. Open final in a row. He won the 2011 title and was a runner-up in 2010 and 2012. The Serb reached his 14th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal (and seventh straight in New York) with a four-set victory over No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny in the quarterfinals. Djokovic hadn't lost a set in the tournament before that match, pummeling four unseeded opponents.
Wawrinka, 28, has had a more difficult path to his first major semifinal. He beat Marcos Baghdatis in a fourth-set tiebreaker in the third round and rallied from a set down to defeat No. 5 Tomas Berdych in four in the fourth round. The Swiss had a surprisingly routine quarterfinal, dismissing defending champion Andy Murray 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
Djokovic is 12-2 against Wawrinka, including 11 consecutive victories. This is their first meeting since Djokovic outlasted Wawrinka 12-10 in the fifth set in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January, a match considered perhaps the best of the year on the men's tour. Here's the classic match point from Melbourne: