peRFect Tennis continues its countdown of the greatest Australian Open matches in its storied history. Today’s trip down memory lane sees Serbian Novak Djokovic take on Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open. Here’s a quick recap of what you may have missed so far.
Serbian Novak Djokovic was undoubtedly the best player in the world at that point in his career. Being the number one seed and defending champion; he had won the title for two consecutive years. Triumph in Melbourne would see him establish an Open Era record as the first man to win three successive Australian Open singles titles. He would also join Roger Federer and Andre Agassi as the third man to win the event four times overall.
Standing in his way was Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, a perennial danger on the court who was finally starting to exhibit his latent talent. Wawrinka had defeated American Sam Querrey in straight sets in his third-round match, whereas Djokovic overcame Czech journeyman Radek Stepanek 6-4 6-3 7-5 to reach the fourth round. Furthermore, Djokovic held an 11-2 lead over Wawrinka, winning ten consecutive matches that included their most recent meeting at the 2012 US Open. Djokovic won that match in straight sets, and there was little indication that Wawrinka would pose a significant threat to the Serbian.
Wawrinka obtained the early break in the first set to lead 2-1, following an error-strewn game by the defending champion. The Swiss then proceeded to dismantle the world number one, displaying some great shot-making as a stunned crowd looked on. Wawrinka overpowered Djokovic from the baseline, hitting winners from all corners and breaking the Serbian on two subsequent occasions to grab the first set 6-1 in just 25 minutes.
Both men exchanged breaks to begin the second set, and a blistering backhand winner up the line gave Wawrinka the break at 2-1. Holding a 5-3 lead and serving for the set, the fifteenth seed faltered and was broken by Djokovic. Credit must be given to the defending champion, however, as his exceptional defence frustrated his opponent, drawing a few errors in the process. Djokovic levelled the set at 5-5, before again breaking Wawrinka and claiming the second set 7-5.
Djokovic’s defence and flexibility were on full display, forcing his opponent to take more risks to overpower him.
Novak Djokovic is widely regarded as one of the fittest players on tour, and this was very evident in the third set. Retrieving numerous balls that he had no business getting, he immediately broke Wawrinka’s opening service game. The Swiss did break back, and each man held serve till 4-4. It was here that Djokovic’s fitness was apparent, as he forced more errors out of Wawrinka using his incredible defensive prowess. Converting on his second break point to lead 5-4, he proceeded to serve out the set; leaving Wawrinka on the verge of elimination.
Not known for being mentally tough, most would assume Wawrinka would fade away following the loss of the third set. However, he employed his slice backhand to keep him in points and relied on his aggressive groundstrokes to stay level with Djokovic during the fourth set. There were no breaks, although exceptional shot-making was the order of the day. A tiebreak ensued, with Wawrinka going up 2-0 following a laser-like backhand winner down the line. More aggressive play coupled with some sublime volleys saw him acquire set point at 6-5, before claiming the set 7-6(5) with a forehand winner following another impressive rally.
The final set is probably one of the best sets ever to have been played on a tennis court, regardless of location. The Melbourne crowd was frantic by this point, perhaps not wanting to see either man lose. This energy seemed to spur Wawrinka as he broke Djokovic in the opening service game. The Serb, however, was relentless in his assault on Wawrinka’s backhand, forcing him to resort to short slices which he put away with ease. He immediately broke back to even the score at 1-1. What followed was a rare display of skill, technique and passion for the sport that has arguably not been surpassed.
Both men faced breakpoints, but neither was willing to back down. There were no breaks of serve, and at 8-8 it became apparent that this would go down as one of the best matches ever witnessed on Rod Laver Arena.
Unfortunately, the match had to have a winner. Serving at 10-11 and up 40-15, errors began to creep into Wawrinka’s game. Aggressive play from the Djokovic saw the Swiss commit two errors, and a lucky net cord gave the defending champion a match point. This was quickly erased by a massive Wawrinka serve, but an errant backhand gave Djokovic another match point. A brazen backhand winner down the line levelled the score at deuce, and another backhand winner gave him game point. Going for his third backhand winner in a row, the Swiss sent the shot long, and it was tied at deuce again.
The Aussie crowd was going ballistic at this point, as Wawrinka hit a beautiful forehand winner to obtain another game point. Incredible defense from Djokovic saw Wawrinka send his backhand shot long before the Swiss netted a straightforward backhand to give the number one seed his third match point. What followed was probably one of the most iconic points in Australian Open history, as Djokovic finally ended a spectacular 20-shot rally with a backhand passing shot. The champion had prevailed in five sets 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10 in 5 hours 2 minutes.
After embracing at the net, Djokovic joined in the rousing ovation as Wawrinka walked off the court. The Swiss superstar may not have emerged victorious, but he had developed a new-found belief in himself, and this would be evident during the 2013 season. His run of success continued, making the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, the US Open semifinals and even qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals; all for the first time in his career.
Djokovic would go on to win his fourth Australian Open and sixth Major title, defeating Great Britain’s Andy Murray 6-7(2) 7-6(3) 6-2 6-2 in the final. The quality of Tennis in this match was insane, not only were both men able to maintain such a high level of play, but they did so over five hours. Furthermore, not only did the match cement Djokovic as one of the greatest players of all time; it also provided the breakthrough Wawrinka required to join the upper echelon of professional tennis players. It is indeed deserving as one of the greatest matches in the history of the Australian Open.
Where do you think this match ranks among the best Australian Open Matches? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below?