In what many considered to be the clash of the fourth round, 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka ended Novak Djokovic’s US Open title defence in front of a packed Arthur Ashe. The Swiss had been expected to be a real threat to the world #1 and so it proved. The two men traded blows early on and it was Wawrinka who made the first move, capitalising on some loose shots from Djokovic to get the first break of the match.
Djokovic threatened to break straight back, forcing two break points of his own. But he netted what should have been a routine backhand to squander the first before Wawrinka fired down three aces to hold. That was to prove Djokovic’s best chance to get back to parity in the first set. Wawrinka saw out his next two service games without much trouble to seal the opening set in what was the pair’s first meeting since their memorable US Open final clash in 2016.
Djokovic responded early in the second set, winning the first three games as he played his best tennis of the match to steal an early march on his opponent. The match looked to be heading towards the sort of epic territory that had seen them contest four five-set matches in their previous seven Grand Slam contests. But it wasn’t to be as Djokovic squandered that lead, playing with increasing desperation as he proved unable to hit through Wawrinka from the baseline.
It was a curiously flat performance through the first two sets and the reason for that became clear as Djokovic had his shoulder manipulated during the changeover. That problem had been clearly bothering him during his second-round win over Juan Ignacio Londero and though it appeared to have subsided during the third round, where he comfortably defeated Denis Kudla, clearly the issue remained serious.
Djokovic attempted to play on in the third set, but having been broken to love in the third game, the world #1 called it quits to send Wawrinka back into the quarterfinals. There the Swiss will face Daniil Medvedev, who is enjoying an excellent summer after picking up the title in Cincinnati as well as reaching finals in Washington and Montreal. And whilst professionals never wish injury on their colleagues, the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will surely feel their chances of taking the title have improved dramatically.
The Swiss, who was in Djokovic’s half of the draw, faces Grigor Dimitrov, a player he has never lost to, in the quarterfinals and will surely be the heavy favourite to advance. Nadal, in the other half of the draw, has yet to play his fourth-round match, which pits him against another former champion Marin Cilic, but looks to be in very good position to advance to Sunday’s final. For Djokovic, however, it will surely be a bitter blow. He will now surely hope that it does not prove as serious an issue as the elbow problem that derailed his career between 2016 and 2018. But, do not be surprised if the Serb plays little tennis between now and the end of the year as he looks to safeguard his body.
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