MELBOURNE -- In a match that won't go down as one of their Melbourne instant classics, No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated No. 4 Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 on Friday to advance to his fifth Australian Open final. He'll face No. 6 Andy Murray on Sunday.
Over the course of three hours and thirty minutes, Djokovic and Wawrinka struggled to find the form that landed them in the semifinals. Djokovic came into the match without a loss of a set and his serve had been broken just once in 71 games. Wawrinka played the best match of his tournament in defeating No. 5 Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the quarterfinals and had lost just one set in his five matches. That top line form was elusive on a cool night on Friday. The two combined for 118 unforced errors to 69 winners and both men struggled to maintain any stretch of momentum.
Wawrinka described the match as "strange". "Not the best, for sure," he said. "I think there were a lot of up and down. Beginning conditions weren't too good. It's quite flying a little bit. Balls are not easy to control."
Wawrinka failed to capitalize on an early break in the seventh game, giving the break back at love in the next game. He was the bigger hitter on the day but Djokovic's defense stole the first set as he raced to a 7-1 win in the first set tiebreak. Then came Djokovic's turn to throw in a poor game in the sixth game of the second set, double-faulting a break away and Wawrinka held serve to level the match.
"I did not play on the level that I intended before the match," Djokovic said. "There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but parts of the match where I played too defensive and allowed him to dictate the play from the baseline. He has great depth in his shots. Once he has control of the rallies it's very difficult to play against him. So, yeah, it was very emotional, very tense, as it always is against a top player in semifinals of a Grand Slam."
The momentum swung again in a rollercoaster third set, with Djokovic racing to a 3-0 lead before Wawrinka reeled off three straight games to get to 3-all. But serving at 4-5, Wawrinka blinked. At 40-15 he threw in a double-fault -- one of 21 unforced errors off his racket in the third -- and Djokovic would win four straight points to take the game and the set.
But again Djokovic couldn't keep his momentum. In yet another odd swing, Djokovic led 2-0 in the fourth only to see Wawrinka hit his way back into the match and force a decisive set. Serving at 3-all in the fourth, Djokovic hit four straight unforced errors to get broken and give Wawrinka life. In the most curious stat of the match, Djokovic failed to hit a single winner in the fourth set, firing 14 unforced errors instead.
The final set turned on a single point in the first game. Wawrinka earned a break point and had a backhand down the line lined up for a winner but he sailed it well long past the baseline and Djokovic held two points later. The Serb never looked back. Serving at 15-30 in the next game, Wawrinka double-faulted to give up two break points and Djokovic converted on yet another Wawrinka unforced error. Djokovic rolled through the remaining four games to cap the sputtering match with a bagel set in 36 minutes. He finished the match with 27 winners to 49 unforced errors with 5 aces and 3 double-faults. Wawrinka hit 42 winners, 69 unforced errors, 10 aces and four double-faults.
Wawrinka did well to back up his title run last year by making the semifinals, but cited his short off-season for his fatigue on Friday. "It was mentally that I think I'm paying the price to finish off the season with Davis Cup, not having a bigger off-season, trying to focus really well to start well the year with winning Chennai and being here trying to do the best," he said. "I told my coach before the match and already yesterday that I was mentally completely dead and no battery. Tough to focus on what I want to do. Tough to focus on my game."
Photo of the match
Video of the match
Shot of the tournament? Amazing pick-up volley from Wawrinka:
Tweets of the match