It was the match that had, simultaneously and conflictingly, both a sense of defiance and a sense of inevitability. We watched the unfolding of the 5 setter between Wawrinka and Djokovic through bleary, sleep deprived eyes – Stan came out in a state of hyperlucidity. Redlining for a full set and a half with brilliant winners, seemingly neutralising and then attacked Djokovic’s shots at will and off both wings.
And then came that inevitable 6-1, 5-3, 30-0. Stan’s first service percentage dipped. His forehand went away under pressure. His backhand sailed long past the Melbourne sign. Djokovic knew he didn’t need to change tactics. He just needed to be himself and wait for Stan to come back down to earth.
And Stan didn’t just come back to earth, he plummeted hard into a 1-2 set deficit crater. Wawrinka would not win another game that set and would go on to concede the 3rd set 4-6 just for good measure. But here’s where the story defied expectations. Wawrinka didn’t just go away. He held onto the fourth set for dear life, he pushed it into the tiebreak, and he came up with something magical when the playing field was levelled and the stakes were high. That wasn’t luck, that was redlining, that was rising to the occasion.
For the first time last night, I considered – however briefly – the possibility that this might be it. This might be the Rosol def Nadal equivalent of the Australian Open. (And yes, I know the Rosol comparisons are inappropriate to some extent. Wawrinka is an established top 20 player. He is no Rosol. But the only other upset of this magnitude in recent years has been brought about by Rosol, and hence I’m sticking with the comparison).
We would look back on the fifth set, which Stan lost 10-12, as a case of destiny conspiring against the glorious nation of Switzerland. Djokovic served first for starters, and boy did he serve well, putting relentless scoreboard pressure on Stan towards the latter part of the set. At 4-all 15-40, a Wawrinka return landed right on the baseline.
OUT – it was called.
Only that wasn’t true, despite chair umpire Molina backing the lines person on the call. And from thereon, the only inevitability left in the match was that of the “if only’s”. Sure, if the point were to be replayed, Djokovic would’ve had a first serve. But the flip side of the coin is that if the point were to be replayed, Wawrinka would have had another breakpoint. And instead of breaking and serving for the match, Wawrinka would serve to stay in the match 7 more times before Djokovic came up with a stunning pass on match point to close out one of the toughest 4th round matches of his career.
So what does this mean in the grand scheme of things? Not much for Djokovic. He has shown in the past 2 years that he is more than capable of recovering from 5 set matches and playing tournament-winning tennis. With the level that Stan played at yesterday, he would have troubled any player on tour, even the World No 1. And the fact that Djokovic came through the match was evidence enough of the ease of Novak’s self belief, and his ability to rise to the challenge under pressure.
And as for Wawrinka, when I attended his second and third round match at Melbourne Park last week, I was in the company of a lot of people who didn’t know his game well, and didn’t particularly give two hoots about him. To say the least, I think the situation might be vastly different next year.
And so we have the epic 5-set, oil burning fourth round, followed by a rather dull Federer match (through no fault of the darling boy) – full of love holds, unreturned serves and the total incapability of Raonic to stay in an extended rally against Federer, particularly when Federer keeps feeding off-pace shots from both wings up the middle of the court at him.
Of course, it’s appropriate to acknowledge that physically, Raonic is far from being in tip top shape right now. But that does not take away from the fact that Federer has now made it into the quarterfinals without being broken and facing only 4 bps in 4 matches.
While at the start of the tournament, Federer’s form was a total mystery, after 4 rounds at the Aus Open, we can safely say that the man came to Melbourne prepared. And with Tsonga in excellent form against Gasquet earlier in the day, it should be an intriguing quarterfinal match up for the pair of them.
Time to get the tunnel vision goggles out. Repeat after me: One match. At a. Time.