Just call him Stan the Man. The hard working third seeded 31-year old Swiss who’s played in the shadow of Roger Federer won his first ever U.S. Open. In a captivating match that had plenty of mental and physical battles, Stan Wawrinka came back to defeat top ranked Novak Djokovic in four sets, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 at a boisterous Ashe Stadium.
In winning his third major, Wawrinka has now captured the Australian, French and U.S. Open. Two have come after turning 30 including Roland Garros in ’15 and Flushing Meadows on Sunday. Aside from going three-for-three in his first three major finals, he’s won an astonishing 11 consecutive finals on the ATP Tour. A streak he continued by getting the better of the game’s best player.
Despite an odd road to another final in Queens that included a walkover, two retirements and a bizarre four set semifinal win over the perplexing Gael Monfils, Djokovic had a chance to win three of four slams a second straight year, which would’ve further cemented his place as one of the game’s all-time best. He still owns 12 slams including this year’s Australian and French- his first which completed a career grand slam. It wasn’t meant to be for the weary world number one ranked Serbian who had two treatments for blisters in the fourth set. He clearly was hobbled but showed plenty of heart forcing Wawrinka to earn it.
“This is amazing,” an emotional Wawrinka told the crowd during the on court presentation on a special day which commemorated the 15-year Anniversary of September 11, 2001. “I came here without expecting to win it. When I stepped on the court, I tried to win every match. I did everything today against Novak. The crowd and atmosphere was something I’ve never had before. It’s an amazing night.”
On this night, it was Wawrinka who was the better player. As a classy Djokovic said during his runner-up interview, he was the ‘more courageous player.’ Indeed, Wawrinka was better on the big points, saving an incredible 14 of 17 break points against the game’s best returner. He also was more opportunistic, converting on six of ten break chances.
The difference was actually his defense. Normally a huge edge to the gritty Djokovic, it went to Wawrinka, who found ways to stay in points when he was pinned behind the baseline. He also went bigger crushing 46 winners compared to Djokovic’s 30. Both committed their share of unforced errors with Wawrinka having 51 while Djokovic made 46. A lot of the mistakes were due to some grueling rallies where each player never gave up on points or the other’s serve. It had that kind of feel. No wonder the four set match took three hours and 54 minutes to complete. Imagine if there was a fifth set. What would they have had left?
A much sharper Djokovic came out firing on all cylinders by quickly breaking a flat Wawrinka in the second game. He then held for a 3-0 lead. Wawrinka was misfiring wildly from the baseline. His normally unflappable and clutch one-handed backhand- the best in the sport- was missing. It was that clutch shot he made on a match point in a third round win over Daniel Evans that kept him alive long enough to win a tiebreak and pull out a five set win. He then needed four sets in the next two rounds including an emotional quarterfinal victory over former ’09 Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro in a Davis Cup atmosphere. He also fought back from a set down to overpower Kei Nishikori in the semis.
To his credit, Wawrinka regained his composure. Finding the form that has always made him a “big match player” according to Djokovic, he worked his way back in the first set eventually breaking back. Even with momentum entering the tiebreak, he dropped the breaker 7-1. There were two incredible points back-to-back. The first, Wawrinka won with both players scrambling from baseline to net with him able to knock off a volley into an open court. The next point saw Djokovic at his defensive best, going on the full run to hit a perfect backhand up the line for a huge winner. He would then cruise to take a one set lead.
Despite falling behind, Wawrinka started the second set by going up an early break on Djokovic, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. His bigger ground game seemed to be getting to Djokovic. But the resilient two-time Open winner valiantly fought back with a break of his own, eventually squaring the set at 4-all. Knowing he needed to hold, Wawrinka gamely held for 5-4. In the 10th game, he was able to break Djokovic to square the match.
The third set was wild and unpredictable. There were three breaks of serve, speaking to just how competitive each service game was. It was again Wawrinka early in the set who jumped in front due to unconscious winners from both sides. Whether it be his lethal one-handed backhand either cross court or down the line or his forehand also down the line, he was the more brave player. Something Djokovic referenced afterwards.
“I lost my nerves in the important moments. He kept his cool. I think that’s what decided the match. I just didn’t capitalize at all on my opportunities. I had plenty of them. It was a terrible conversion of the break points. Just terrible from my side,” the always honest world number one assessed.
“In matches like these, if you don’t use the opportunities, the other guy comes and takes it. And that’s what he did. That’s why I said he was more courageous, because he stepped in and played aggressive where I was waiting for things to happen.”