James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — The epic night match Rod Laver Arena yearned for was delivered.
The contest featuring number one seed Novak Djkovic and fifteenth seed Stanislas Wawrinka was a perfect contrast of skills, character, technique and body type.
Whereas Novak is known to hit a two handed backhand, eat gluten free and stretch more than a Yoga guru, Stan is notorious for his single handed backhand, enjoying a coffee and we suspect an accompanying croissant.
Stan started strong, stronger than we have ever seen him start against quality opposition, winning his serve easily and breaking the defending champion instantly. After only twenty five minutes Stan had won the set, humbling the usually more aggressive Novak in a master-class of tennis excellence that featured only three unforced errors.
After trading breaks of serve Stan again pulled away leaving his opponent to search for answers. Novak, who had slipped on a few occasions, blamed his shimmering silver tennis shoes for his current predicament, prompting a glare in the direction of his box.
By the next change of ends a new set of identical footwear were on Novak’s feet, leaving the Emperor happy in his new shoes.
Regardless, Stan steamrolled onto a 5-2 second set lead.
“I was just trying to stay focused on my game and to keep playing my best game, my best level, try to push him. I knew he would always try to change something. He would always try to serve better, to put more pressure.” Stan told reporters.
As expected the pressure came, for champions are champions for a reason. With the game clock ticking over the one hour mark a shift of fortunes occurred for the man who was chasing. The Serbian locomotive had left the station and with it the game plan had changed. Novak was now the aggressor whilst his Swiss counterpart began to tighten up.
“In this circumstances when you’re not playing the way you want to play, you just try to fight and hope for the best.” said Novak of a shift most expected and one that included winning five games in a row to level at a set apiece.
Before we had time to really comprehend what was happening the third set was upon us and over in typical Djokovic fashion. The vast majority of rallies signified by heavy forehands and the trademark baseline scrambling that makes opponents anxious when going for an outright winner.
The fourth set would be a mere formality, we all assumed.
Nobody told Stan. He ignored the script and fought. Serving well he stayed strong in the fourth set matching Novak rally for rally with the majority of the points worthy of a highlight reel that was enough to bring the single handed backhand back into fashion. With the set locked at six games apiece and game clock passing the three hour mark a tie-break ensued which Stan dominated and was rewarded with the fourth set by playing the more aggressive yet precarious tennis.
The fifth set, which was in many ways two sets, arrived at midnight and the crowd had what they wanted- a new addition to the vault of Australian Open folklore.
Stan broke Novak instantly only for Novak to break right back. From that point on the two players held serve for well over an hour and a half prompting a battle of wills to merge into a test of fitness.
Stanislas Wawrinka, as the underdog became the hero. He revved the crowd, took risks that caused the crowd to squirm, and hit winners that made you shake your head in disbelief.
Only at 11-10 down in the fifth set after over five hours of battle and a twenty ball rally did he succumb prompting the crowd to stand in ovation for the display they had witnessed, the miracle they had been a part of. Novak had won but Stan had won our hearts.
The players hugged after which Novak ripped off his shirt, his apparent tradition for epic fight set bouts.
After the match Stan was positive, “For sure I was serving for the second set to be up two sets to love. But, as I said, in five sets, five hours, you always have some opportunity to win a set or to win the match. If you don’t take it, he’s going to take it.”
As we have come to expect Novak was modest when speaking of his opponent. “All the credit to him. I feel sorry that one of use had to lose. He definitely deserved to win.”