After his crushing round-of-16 loss to the hands of Novak Djokovic, in Melbourne, Stanislas Wawrinka could be seen barely able to contain bitter tears of deception on court, even as Djokovic was exuberantly celebrating his epic triumph. Wawrinka had given all he had, and came up short, very late in the fifth set.
Today’s U.S. Open semifinal match was perhaps not as epic as the match played at the Australian Open, but the result was the same for Wawrinka: another crushing loss to the hands of Novak Djokovic, 2-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 6-4.
However, the Swiss’s reaction was different, as he almost seemed to enjoy himself despite having missed the chance to top his first Grand Slam semifinal appearance with a first final.
What was the difference between the two losses?
“In the Australian Open I had to play my best game to stay with him. Today I had the feeling when I was still fit, when I was still healthy I had the match in control. I think I was playing better than him. I was doing much more things than him.But he’s not No. 1 for nothing. He was staying with me all the match, and at the end he pushed me, pushed me far, far, far back. I had to find everything I had in my body today to stay with him, and he won the match.”
– Stanislas Wawrinka
For as we mentioned in our preview, Wawrinka is playing, at the moment, the best tennis of his career. Not only is his game even better, with a much improved forehand, his attitude also changed. If he was a fighter before, but could get down on himself a bit when things got out of control, now, he is fighting even harder, with much more confidence.
These things, we could see during the match, today, but we also saw it throughout all the tournament: how he did not let Marcos Baghdatis complete his comeback in the third round, how he did not discourage himself and fought on after losing the first set to Tomaš Berdych in the fourth round, or how he kept on fighting in the third set after failing not once, but twice to serve it out, how he crushed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals,…
This newfound confidence, this belief in himself and in his game, combined to his natural aggressiveness on a tennis court (Stan is not the guy to just sit on the baseline and defend), all this combined to make him reach that first Grand Slam semi, at 28, but also made him come really close to beating Novak Djokovic, today.
Even the Serbian acknowledged it, twice rather than once:
“Wawrinka was a better player for most of the better part of the match because he was aggressive and played better tennis. [On the] other hand, me, I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I can actually win. And I sincerely believed that as the match progresses and longer it goes, I felt I have maybe that physical edge over him, and that I also, being in particularly these kind of matches and situations, playing on a big stage in semifinals, maybe that experience could, you know, give me a little bit more of confidence on the court mentally, also. Even though I was quite nervous at the start of the match and we played five sets I still felt that I was there, you know, and that I was fighting. Credit to him for playing really well. We had some great exchanges, you know, in swirly conditions.”
– Novak Djokovic
This analysis from Djokovic is probably what sums up this semifinal the best: a bit of a cranky World n°1, an aggressive rival, and a Djokovic who prevailed because he was in the best shape, physically, the more the match went on. After all, Wawrinka did struggle with an upper thigh/groin issue from the end of the third set to the end of the match.
Nevertheless, it is a match from which Stanislas Wawrinka can take a lot of positives, and build upon.
He has the game. He has the head. He has the fighting spirit.
He showed it.
Maybe, next time, he will not be the one to come up short.
(Photos: Getty Images)