Playing the match of your life and winning it is an exhilarating feeling. Ask Lukas Rosol or Jérémy Chardy about it. On the other hand, playing the match of your life, keeping things close for five hours and coming within reach of the biggest upset of your career, only to be denied, is crushing.
This is what happened to Stanislas Wawrinka in the round-of-16 of the Australian Open.
Wawrinka is known for his beautiful, aggressive, powerful game and gorgeous one-handed backhand. He is also known for not always being the most consistent of players when the situations get tight. However, during his fourth-round encounter with World no 1 Novak Djokovic, only the former was seen, as the Swiss took a rapid 6-1 5-3 30-0 lead that dazed his opponent, and everyone watching.
Then the tide turned.
Djokovic broke back, won the next three games, and there was a whole new match, just as exciting, just as enthralling, which glued us all to our chairs for the remainder of this 5h02 epic, as Djokovic’s incredible defence clashed with Wawrinka’s just as incredible branch of aggressive tennis.
Even trailing two sets to one, never has Stanislas Wawrinka lowered his head in defeat. Instead, he kept it held high and continued to fight, even when the cramps started to take hold of his legs, late in the fourth set, which he took in a spectacular fashion in the tiebreak.
Such a match, after all, deserved a decisive fifth set.
Wawrinka broke his rival in the very first game, only to be broken right back. Then started an amazing battle that capped the match nicely, both players digging deep into their energy levels to hang on and try to clinch the win.
The Swiss had a great chance to break in the ninth game of the set, but was denied, and he hung on, against all odds, until the 22nd game, where he went from 40-15 up to match point down, which he saved with a powerful serve, and then to a second match point, thus saved:
Unfortunately for Wawrinka, it only delayed the inevitable, and a third match point brought not only one of the best rallies of this superb match, but also the conclusion of this epic 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10 win by the number one player in the world:
One player extatic, his vanquished, valiant rival in tears. Fights like the one we’ve seen tonight can only make one winner, when two men deserved to leave with the triumph.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulty to digest losing such a close encounter, Stanislas Wawrinka did not just see negative in the defeat:
“At the end I was really, really close. For sure I’m really sad. It’s a big deception to lose that match. But I think there is more positive than negative.”
Wawrinka may not have won the match, but he earned respect. He showed a great fighting spirit. He hung on despite the situation disfavouring him against the best player in the world. He had his chances. He fought to the end, even though it was a bitter one, and a very difficult pill for him to swallow.
After all, Wawrinka has not been in the top 30 without interruption for nearly five years, including a bout in the top 10, for no reason. Tonight, he showed why. Hopefully he can build on this performance to have a memorable season.
As for Djokovic, this narrow escape should give him wings for the rest of the tournament. His rivals better beware, starting with Tomaš Berdych, whom he will face in the quarter-finals.
Day 7 results
Men’s singles (top half, round-of-16)
-  Novak Djokovic d.  Stanislas Wawrinka, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
-  David Ferrer d.  Kei Nishikori, 6-2 6-1 6-4
-  Tomaš Berdych d. Kevin Anderson, 6-3 6-2 7-6(13)
-  Nicolás Almagro d.  Janko Tipsarevic, 6-2 5-1, ret. (locked nerve in left heel)
Men’s doubles (round-of-16)
-  Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan d. Jérémy Chardy/Lukasz Kubot, 6-7(4) 6-4 6-3
-  Marcel Granollers/Marc López d. Eric Butorac/Paul Hanley, 6-2 7-5
- Thomaz Bellucci/Benoît Paire d.  Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi/Jean-Julien Rojer, 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(5)
- Daniele Bracciali/Lukas Dlouhy d. Sergiy Stakhovsky/Mikhail Youzhny, 7-6(3) 1-6 7-6(4)