World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka rallied to beat top seed Novak Djokovic in a four-set thriller in the final of the US Open on Sunday evening.
The Swiss toppled Djokovic, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3, inside Arthur Ashe Stadium to win his third major title and stop the Serb from taking three out of four Slams for the second time in as many years.
"This is amazing, for sure, amazing two weeks," Wawrinka said. "I spend so much time on the court. Today I knew it will be a really tough battle again playing the No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, who always push you to play your best tennis if you want to beat him. Was not only in the tennis side but physically and mentally was really tough, again."
At three hours and 54 minutes, the match became another one of those instant classics between the pair, joining the trio of five-set thrillers in successive years from 2013 to 2015 at the Australian Open and Djokovic’s five-set semifinal win here in New York in 2013. Ths one may not have gone five, but it had all the same drama.
Each player came into the final with a slice of history on their side, even if that history did favor the world No. 1. That was soon to be re-written.
Djokovic, who spent just eight hours, 58 minutes on court compared with Wawrinka's 17 hours, 54 minutes, coming in to the final, had won 19 of their 23 meetings, including four of six at Slams. For Wawrinka, each time he defeated Djokovic at a Slam, he went on to lift the trophy – at the Australian Open in 2014 and at Roland Garros the following year. Now he's a perfect three-for-three.
"Honestly after the match I was completely empty," Wawrinka said. "I put everything on the court. Not only today, but the past two weeks. Today I was trying to stay with him. I was trying to be tough with myself. Trying not to show anything. Not to show any pain. Not to show any cramp. Not to show anything. I was suffering on the court, but I'm happy and proud with what I have achieved today."
Djokovic looked to be extending his trend of dominance early on, but he was uncharacteristically sloppy on the big points. In a strange similarity to last year's final, Djokovic went just 3-of-17 on break points in the loss. Last year, when he defeated Federer in four sets, it was Federer who was held to four breaks in 23 opportunities.
"I lost my nerves in the important moments," Djokovic said. "He kept his cool. I think that's what decided the match. I guess sometimes it happens, even though you have the experience and know what to do. Just the heat of the moment and importance of the match, I guess, you know, was too strong for me at certain periods of the match. Just if you lose your cool, the match can go away."
On Sunday, particularly after the opening set, the best returner in the game struggled in the same way that Federer did 12 months ago. But you would never have forseen what was to come by how well Djokovic started.
When you're the best in the world and play a match with few mistakes, it takes something special from the other side of the net. Wawrinka was first able to find the brilliance he needed, and then he was able to continue it.
"Today, before the final, I was really nervous like never before. I was shaking in the locker," Wawrinka said. "When we start five minutes before the match talking, last few things with [coach] Magnus [Norman], I start to cry. I was completely shaking. But the only thing I was convinced with myself that my game was there. Physically I was there. My game was there. Put the fight on the court and you will have a chance to win."
Djokovic made his intentions known early, and it was obvious who had spent less time on court on the road to the final. After he consolidated the early break and Wawrinka got on the board, Djokovic continued his relentless attack. Wawrinka served his way out of trouble to save a set point at 5-2 and the first set was ticketed for a tiebreak. But Djokovic held firm in the breaker, burshing past Wawrinka, 7-1, to close within two sets of his third US Open title.
The second set was a different story, however. Wawrinka broke at 2-1 and then saved three break points himself to extend his advantage to 4-1. With Djokovic serving at 3-5, Wawrinka whipped a forehand down the line over the high part of the net to earn a pair of set points. He capitalized on the second attempt when Djokovic's forehand sailed long, eliciting a roar from the Swiss and a racquet smash from the defending champion.
The third set toggled back and forth, the two men trading breaks to 5-5. Wawrinka finally seized the advantage in the 12th game, when a Djokovic forehand sailed wide to give the Swiss the break and a two-sets-to-one lead.
With the end in sight, Wawrinka broke again at the start of the fourth set as he raced out to a 3-0 lead against a visibly stunned Djokovic, who later received a pair of medical timeouts – at 3-1 and 5-2 – for a right toe injury. Djokovic kept the championship match alive by holding to make it 5-3, but that was as close as he got to closing the gap.
Wawrinka failed to convert his first match point after Djokovic planted a forehand hit into the net, but he sealed the deal at the very next attempt when he forced Djokovic into sending a backhand long. Wawrinka raised both arms in celebvration and then made a bee-line to his coaches, family and friends sat at the corner of the court.
"There is no secret," Wawrinka said. "If you want to beat the No. 1 player in the world, you have to give everything."