Djokovic outlasts Wawrinka in five-hour thriller at Australian Open

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Stan Wawrinka (left) pushed Novak Djokovic to the brink in a dramatic fourth-round match. (AFP/Getty Images)


No. 1 Novak Djokovic showed once again why he is the toughest out in tennis. The two-time defending Australian Open champion overcame 15th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 12-10 on Sunday to advance to his 15th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Some thoughts on the five-hour, two-minute match, during which Djokovic rallied from 1-6, 2-5 down and Wawrinka played the best tennis of his life:

Djokovic fights back … and so does Wawrinka: It seems like forever ago that Djokovic was considered weak — a delicate flower that wilted with just the slightest breeze or twinge of heat. His curiously timed medical timeouts and awkward retirements drew the ire of fellow players such as Andy Roddick, who famously criticized the Serb for being a hypochondriac at the U.S. Open in 2008.

But the brash, spiky-haired kid from Belgrade who talked a big game before he even knew what it meant has morphed into an unbreakable statesman of the sport, melding shotmaking, relentlessness and resolve into one bendy No. 1. He’s become a player you simply cannot doubt regardless of the scoreline. He was shell-shocked by Wawrinka early, as the Swiss No. 2 fired backhand lasers for winners and broke Djokovic at will. Djokovic hadn’t been broken once through three rounds, but Wawrinka did so five straight times to take a 6-1, 4-1 lead in the blink of an eye.

“He made me run all over the court,” Djokovic said. “He never gave me the same ball. He was aggressive from both sides. I didn’t know what’s coming up next.”

Yet Djokovic climbed his way back, as he so often does, pressuring Wawrinka with his returns and sorting out his service games. Djokovic erased a 2-5 deficit by winning the final five games of the second set, leveling the match at a set apiece.

The conventional wisdom said Wawrinka would collapse after squandering a golden opportunity to take a two-set lead. The shocker was that he didn’t. After dropping the third set, Wawrinka set up a tiebreaker in the fourth set. He earned a mini-break early and pulled out this incredible point to force a fifth set:

Again, the expectation was that Wawrinka would fade in the deciding set, especially because he started cramping and received massages on both legs during multiple changeovers in the fifth. But he broke Djokovic in the first game and, after giving the break right back, kept pace with Djokovic from there. Wawrinka had four break points at 4-4 but couldn’t convert, and the two exchanged routine holds until the 22nd and final game of the set. The Swiss saved two match points, including one on yet another terrific backhand winner, but Djokovic finally converted on his third chance in the game.

Wawrinka matched Djokovic’s resiliency and made him earn everything — including a riveting match point:

“Well, it definitely ranks right at the top,” Djokovic, no stranger to epic five-setters at the Australian Open, said of the match. “One of the longest, most interesting and most exciting matches I played in my career.

“All the credit to him. I feel sorry that one of us had to lose. He definitely deserved to win.”

Asked how he stayed positive after losing the second set, Wawrinka said: “Because I was playing great tennis … against the No. 1 in front of a full house. I don’t know why I would be negative.”


Stan Wawrinka says he’s never played better, but his best wasn’t quite enough on Sunday. (AFP/Getty Images)

No one saw Stan the Man coming: I admit to thinking that this would be a forgettable matchup. Wawrinka had lost 10 head-to-head meetings in a row (including the last four in straight sets), his last victory coming in 2006. He has performed gamely at times against the top players but hasn’t been able to sustain that tenacity in the face of an onslaught. On Sunday, however, he fought with the belief that he could topple Djokovic. 

“It’s by far my best match I ever [played], especially in five sets against the No. 1 player,” Wawrinka said. “For sure, I’m really sad. … But I think there is more positive than negative.”

Whether Wawrinka can replicate that level and intensity throughout the year bears watching.

Challenge rejected: With Djokovic facing the last of those four break points at 4-4 in the fifth set, Wawrinka hit a return that was called long. A replay showed that the ball was good, but Wawrinka — after looking to umpire Enric Molina for advice — declined to challenge. The players would have replayed the point if Wawrinka had challenged, but he expressed no regret after the match.

“I cannot say I was unlucky for that,” he said. “When you play five hours, for sure you have some option to win. … It’s not one bad call or one challenge that can change the match.” 

Next up for Djokovic: Djokovic will take on Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. It’s hard to doubt Djokovic’s ability to bounce back from these draining matches. After all, this is the guy who, after beating Andy Murray in four hours and 50 minutes in the Australian Open semifinals last year, rebounded two days later and outlasted Rafael Nadal in a five-hour, 53-minute final.

“I know I can recover,” Djokovic said. “I know I have it in me.”

  • Published On Jan 20, 2013

    Wawrinka was robbed of the fifth set by inept and/or biased officiating. The fourth breakpoint at 4-4, fifth set: Wawrinka's forehand return landed on the baseline (resulting in a weak reply from Djokovic that landed on Wawrinka's service line that would have been an easy put away for Stan) -- but Wawrinka's shot was called out by the linesperson. And then the very experienced umpire -- Enric Molina is the  ITF Head of Officiating -- gave "strong confirmation" to Wawrinka that it was out, which influenced Wawrinka not to challenge. The TV broadcast showed the Shotspot result: half the ball landed on the line. Had the linesperson not made that bad call, Wawrinka would probably have won the point, broken Djokovic's serve to lead 5-4 and served for the match. The inept/biased officiating on this point may end up affecting the outcome of the tournament.


    It is not clear from Wawrinka's interview transcript (see second question in link) that Wawrinka "expressed no regret after the match" regarding that bad call at 4-4 in the fifth set -- or that he even realized that the newsmedia's question referred to that particular bad call (the questioner ambiguously referred to "a call at a crucial stage of the match" without clarifying which of the dozens of calls he meant -- and Wawrinka was possibly unaware that TV had showed the ball was in on that point). Indeed, the Swiss French newspaper Le Matin suggested Wawrinka was not aware about the Shotsport result on that particular point.("But if one day studying the video of this game, he will see that his return locked on the service line. And he should serve for the match against the champion.")


    In the fifth set, Wawrinka had eight breakpoints. After breaking Djokovic in the first game of the fifth set (two breakpoints), Wawrinka still had six breakpoints: Wawrinka was 15-40 at the 1-1 Djokovic serve game (two breakpoints) and 15-40 at the 4-4 Djokovic serve game (four breakpoints). Arguably, Wawrinka squandered five of those six breakpoints with errors, mostly unforced (Djokovic did not make any winners). But his eight and final breakpoint was lost -- not to an error -- due to a bad call against him.


    On the other hand, Djokovic had six breakpoints, but he never once had double breakpoint in the fifth set. Two of Djokovic's breakpoints came in the second game (where he broke Wawrinka's serve), and his remaining four breakpoints came in the 4-3 game (one breakpoint) and 11-10 game (three breakpoints). In both games that Wawrinka was broken in the fifth set, he had multiple game points to get out of those games.


    Had Wawrinka not injured his legs (possibly since the second set, though he admitted to getting cramps in the third set and fourth set) and/or ran out of gas, he might have won this match in three or four sets. Had Wawrinka done so, it would have left Djokovic without a major title in his ranking period.


    Wawrinka had the benefit of Federer's coach -- and therefore the Federer braintrust's insights on playing Djokovic. Wawrinka has made improvements to his game in the past six months.


    This may not be the only tight match Djokovic experiences in this Australian Open -- even though he has the easiest route to the final of the big three players. As I pointed out before, coming into this major Djokovic had struggled to beat No. 11 Nicolas Almagro in the final of the Abu Dhabi exhibition event and then he got beaten in straight sets by Tomic at the Hopman Cup on this type of court surface -- a player whom Federer took to school.


    Regardless, in some ways this Djokovic-Wawrinka match was more entertaining than the overrated 2012 Australian Open final that was played at a snail's pace in violation of the time limits. Djokovic-Wawrinka played 409 points -- that's 40 points more than the Djokovic-Nadal final (369 points) and 64 points more than the Djokovic-Murray semifinal at last year's Australian Open.


    Although this match was 51 minutes shorter than the 2012 AO final, it's possible that more time was spent actually playing points in this match than in last year's final (where Djokovic and Nadal probably wasted over 70 minutes going over the time limit between points). That's because Wawrinka, who had 214 serve points, probably kept to within the 20 second time limit for most of the match (I randomly clocked Stan on five serve points in the fifth set -- all were 15 to 19 seconds between points). On the other hand, Djokovic continued to violate the time limits without being warned by the umpire (I randomed clocked him between 23 seconds to 38 seconds on five serve points in the fifth set -- 4 of 5 of those points exceeded 30 seconds). However, I'm presuming that Djokovic probably played slightly faster overall compared to last year.


    His time violations are one reason (though obviously not the only reason) why Djokovic is one of the toughest outs in tennis. The umpire gave Djokovic an advantage over Wawrinka by failing to warn him for violating the time limits. Some of his 30+ second violations occured when he was under pressure, not because the previous point was long. On the other hand, Stan played within the 20 second mark after one point with a lot of running. Djokovic's time violations need to be penalized -- and tennis writers need to show more courage in raising this issue instead of protecting Djokovic and romaticizing his victories under these circumstances. 


    Stan was 3-30 against Fed, Nole, and Rafa going into this match so I really wanted to see him pull this one out ... would have certainly been a "career-type" match for the 27-yo, especially on the biggest stage against the 2x defending champ and world #1. For the first 1.5 sets, Stan played tennis as well as it can EVER be played. And when he lost the 2nd set and the commentators were crowing that Nole would just steamroll hm, Stan came back and played neck-to-neck with him for the final two sets. Just a great match and showcase for Stan ... he lost by the slimmest of margins, which is what separates the greats from the very goods. The only issue? Stan's paycheck is the same as Flipkens on the women's side ... and Stan spent the same amount of court-time in his ONE match against Nole than Flipkens did her ENTIRE tournament. Equal play for unequal play, huh?


    While gutted for Stan, i can watch these clips over and over again. The high quality and extreme intensity of the shot making throughout this match was insane. The only other non final i could think of as coming as close to this match also happened at the A.O., Verdasco vs Nadal. And who knew Stan could move like that???


     @Michael9 You are an IDOT !!! So long a text  does not say anything smart  ! 


     @MichaelC  It's not just "equal pay for unequal play".


    The real issue everybody misses is that it is equal pay for unequal value.


    The Australian Open admits that men's matches are higher value than women's matches because it charges $394.90 for the men's final on Sun 27 Jan 2013 and only $294.90 for the women's final on Sat 26 Jan 2013 ($100 less or 74.7%), see link.


    The differences for the men's and women's semifinals are even more pronounced: $224.90 for one men's semifinal (Thurs 24 Jan 2013: Night session) while it charges only $184.90 for two women's semifinals in one afternoon (Thurs 24 Jan 2013: Day session).  In other words, each women's semifinal is worth only 41.1% of a men's semfinal or $132.5 less!


    Yet the paycheck of the men's finalists and semifinals are the same as the women. So the women are getting equal for lower value (the market will not buy women's tickets priced at the level of men's tickets). 


    The unequal value of men's and women's matches are obscured earlier in the tournament because ticket buyers are forced to buy tickets for sessions that include both men and women. If men's matches and women's matches were held in separate sessions, the ticket prices for the women's sessions would likely have to be much cheaper. As well, the broadcast network force TV viewers to watch both men's and women's matches in their main show, which adds to this obfuscation.


    Tennis tournaments ascribe different value to different events: singles events offer different prize money than doubles events. In the same way, men's singles and women's singles are different events -- and the different ticket prices for the men's final and women's final proves that this is the case.


    Furthermore, an expert like Toni Nadal said recently that the best female player Serena Williams would not be able to beat a top 300 male player due to physical reasons. Both ATP No. 5 David Ferrer and WTA No. 51 Anabel Medina Garrigues concurred. In other words, the same pay scale used to pay the top 128 men's players are used to compensate a privileged group of players (women's players) who lack the competence to crack the top 300 -- while the majority of those top 300 men's players ranked 120 to 300 have no chance to earn that pay.


    The solution is simple: make tennis truly open. Men and women allowed to compete against each other in the same tournament draw. The top women's players, including Serena, would have a hard time surviving the men's qualifying events. But everyone would be earning their paychecks according to their market value.


     @MichaelC Heh, brave for "typing that out loud" My suggestion would be at the slams, everyone the first week play 2/3 sets, then in the second week, everybody play 3/5 sets. Saves a little wear and tear on the dudes earlier on, and we'd get some fantastic best of 5 ladies' matches.


     @Lega When you learn to spell, use facts and sound arguments to try to rebut my points... then we will be able to consider whether you are trying to say anything "smart". Making personal attacks on a poster just indicates that you are unable to rebut my points.