Stan Wawrinka has now won three Grand Slam titles. He won the Australian Open in 2014, the French Open in 2015, and now the US Open in 2016. What do all three of his titles have in common? He defeated Novak Djokovic on his way to winning all three of them.
There is something about playing Djokovic that brings out the best in Wawrinka. In fact, it could probably be argued that the turning point in Wawrinka’s career–when he changed from being a talented middle-tier player to one of the near elites–started at the 2013 Australian Open, when he pushed Djokovic to an epic five-setter that ended 12-10 in the fifth. That year became the first that Wawrinka spent a significant amount of time in the Top 10, and the first time he qualified for the World Tour Finals. The US Open that year saw him again push Djokovic to five sets, only to lose a tight match.
Stan Warinka Defeats Novak Djokovic, Wins 1st US Open Title
The obvious breakthrough came in 2014 at the Australian Open, where Wawrinka met Djokovic in the quarterfinals (just like the year before). This match again went to five sets and again went past 6-6, but this time Wawrinka pulled out the match with a 9-7 win in the fifth. Wawrinka went on to win the title, beating Nadal in the final. That spurred Wawrinka on to even more accomplishments, including the Masters title in Monte Carlo that year.
Wawrinka does not quite have the consistency that the “Big 4” became famous for. His three Slam titles now have him equal to Andy Murray, but he is rarely as consistent as the Scot. We don’t see Wawrinka reach the semifinals or better of just about every Slam or Masters tournament. Wawrinka just isn’t, at least not yet, the type of player who plays his best tennis 25 weeks a year.
Instead, we get a much more entertaining Wawrinka. He is a good player who has his downs but brings his absolute best at the biggest of moments. And, as he has now shown three times, his absolute best actually makes him the best in the world.
In this match, Djokovic came out to an early lead. Wawrinka showed some fight and broke back while Djokovic was serving for the set, which ultimately set the tone for the match. Wawrinka lost the first set in a poor tiebreak, but he showed that this match would be a grueling dogfight. And, since 2014 at least, Wawrinka’s weapons let him win dogfights against Djokovic.
Wawrinka’s best shot is his one-handed backhand, and he used it beautifully to dictate so many points in this match. He would try, and often succeed, to force Djokovic into backhand-to-backhand rallies. In those rallies, Wawrinka would often have the advantage.
Djokovic is not World #1 for no reason, though. Wawrinka went up an early break in each of the second and third sets, but Djokovic was able to break back. However, when crunch time came, Wawrinka just had a little bit more that Djokovic couldn’t find an answer for. Wawrinka broke in the 10th game to win the second set and in the 12th to win the third.
This was not Djokovic’s best match, and towards the end he seemed to have some physical issues. That should in no way take away from what Wawrinka did, especially as Djokovic looked healthy in the early stages of the match. The fourth set was unfortunately not as tight or entertaining as the earlier ones, with Wawrinka jumping out to an early break, which Djokovic–clearly hampered by issues with his leg–just couldn’t get back.
Djokovic took a medical time out after the fourth game of the fourth set, something that Wawrinka felt should have been against the rules. The scene was oddly reminiscent of the 2014 Australian Open final, when Rafael Nadal left the court for a medical time out and Wawrinka demanded an explanation. The break didn’t distract Wawrinka, though, who successfully held serve twice more (saving one break point). A second MTO couldn’t disturb the Swiss either, as he held serve to seal the victory.
The win moves Wawrinka to a tie for 39th all-time with his third Slam title. Djokovic will fall to 12-9 in Grand Slam finals in his career, while Wawrinka is now an impressive 3-0, having never lost when he successfully reaches a Slam final. Wawrinka now joins a select group of players who have won three of the four Grand Slams. Wawrinka is just a Wimbledon title (grass is his worst surface) away from the Career Grand Slam.
With the title, Wawrinka has clinched a spot in the World Tour Finals.