Monday, 21 January 2013

Novak takes us to the edge again - with Stan

Based on form, ability and records at Melbourne Park, I found it difficult to see 16th seed Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka troubling world number one Novak Djokovic, and predicted a straight sets win.
Turns out my forecast was a little astray.
The top seed served first and was hammered by Wawrinka who we know hits the ball hard but seemed intent on dishing out a special kind of harm to Novak this evening.  Maybe it has something to do with pay back for Djokovic snatching back the number one spot from Stan's Davis Cup team mate Roger Federer.

Wawrinka also exhibited an early cleanliness with his shot making, appearing to rattle Djokovic who struggled to hold on to the opening game.  Stan had no such problem and Novak was recalled for service duty.  So began one of the strangest sequences of the tournament.

Novak through no fault of Wawrinka made a complete mess of the serve and was broken for the first time this year.  His racquet was not working for him, and clearly his shoes were not helping him with the task of staying upright.  Something was not quite right in Serbia tonight.
Wawrinka happily just served up a treat, mixing up his game with crisp volleys and variety off the forehand in particular.  Novak, or the version of him witnessed by us currently, could not gather any intelligence concerning the Swiss serve, and posed no threat to its safety.

The sequence of Novak service breaks extended to two, and crisis talks were organised.  At 1-4 the number one could possibly lose a set, and trade between Australia and Serbia could be adversely affected.

Continuing with a healthy first serve percentage and excellent serving performance overall - points lost on serve could be counted on one hand - Wawrinka positioned himself just one game away from an unlikely first set smashing of the reigning champ.

With the third loss of his serve in succession, Djokovic caused parliament to resume for a special sitting and cabinet discussions over whether or not to send this to a Senate Committee for resolution.

The Wawrinka support crew thought it was being resolved quite nicely in its current form with one set already in their possession 6-1.

Of course that was an aberration and Novak could not be so impotent in the second set.
Judging by the first game the natural order of tennis players may have been on its way to restoration.  Novak went ahead 1-0 but unconvinced Stan stepped in and broke the Djokovic serve.  Let's face it he hadn't held it since the first game of the match so clearly he had no particular liking for it anymore.

All the while Novak kept dropping serve, Stan was holding his well, and the lead for a dangerously confident Swiss player reached 5-2 when he consolidated the fifth straight loss of the Djokovic serve.
So now we awaited the comeback and from two sets down it would be one of the best, particularly with the way each of the players was managing their work.

Trailing 2-5 does not equate automatically to a set loss, and I should have realised that, given all the recoveries I've seen from Novak in the past.  Just baby steps at first on the road to this recovery and Djokovic actually placed some value on his serve, holding it and remaining one break behind Stan.

Game nine represented the turning point of the match because instead of serving out for a two set lead, Stan let the occasion overwhelm, and the ease of his previous efforts at the line vanished, to be replaced by self doubt.  Novak cashed in, breaking serve to trail 4-5 but with the momentum with him.

Djokovic rode the momentum for the next three games overtaking a stalled Wawrinka to amazingly steal the second set 7-5.  Novak's serving had improved but not enormously - he had come back into the match on the back of his return, which is regarded as without peer.  Wawrinka's effectiveness on serve was diminished in large part due to Novak reading it sooner and dealing with it better.
Stan had begun to leak some unnecessary errors off both sides as well.

Set 3 began with Djokovic full of running and he asserted the authority he granted himself upon the match with a service break in the first game.  Now those who had invested money with the bookies were feeling a little more at ease with themselves believing that Novak had cleared the danger and would ride home safely.

The news of Novak's newly gained authority had not yet filtered through to Stan and he erred by breaking back in the second game much to the annoyance of those who had mapped the course of the remainder of the match.  Still, the set continued to provide sustained entertainment for the masses complete with the forehands from Novak and backhands from Stan.

At 4-4, Novak in a cat-like action, sprung from the tedium of successive service holds to break the Swiss serve and proceed to serve out for a 1-6 7-5 6-4 lead.  Discussions now centred on the possible trains available once Novak knocked this one over in the next half hour or so.

No one counted on, though they certainly hoped for Stan to rally and take the match to a fifth set.  He raised his game again in the fourth set hitting a range of winners off both sides including volleys, overheads and approaches.  Novak had the returns to match the service prowess of Stan and no service breaks occurred, not even a single break point created.

We arrived at a tie break which Novak could afford to lose and still be in the match,  Soon the world's best was  down 1-4 with two serves to come.  He won one and lost one to give Stan the chance to serve for two sets apiece.  Novak fought to reach 5-6 but Stan had the answers and won the tie break seven points to five.  The match from Stan's point of view read 6-1 5-7 4-6 7-6.

Then we had a fifth set that went for about 100 minutes.

We began with the breaks of both serves in the opening two games and then it was a battle for the ages with all the good shots available played, some of the bad ones too.  We had players down break points and kissing their chances goodbye only to extricate themselves heroically from disaster.  We said on several occasions that Stan looked tired and that the legs of Novak would outrun him, then eat those words after astonishing rallies where Stan out Novaked the number one.

We farewelled Novak when he was down break point and hopelessly positioned out of court awaiting the final Swiss blow only for the recovery shot of the century to be employed.

We were witness to far too much for written word to adequately express and some of what was experienced can never be reinterpreted via any media - you just had to be there to see a fifth set of the most intense fluctuating fortunes which ended in the most appropriate way, not with an anti climactic double fault or miserable netted backhand, but a superlative backhand passing cross court angle shot to finish a brilliantly played rally from both players to exemplify the quality of the battle.

Novak Djokovic outlasted his partner in the battle 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 12-10 probably setting a new standard for fourth round matches at Grand Slam events,

This was a wonderful Sunday night but for Stanislas Wawrinka nothing can be said to ease the pain.  He was brave and won over thousands of additional fans with that performance.


  1. Great stuff Tony!

    (And Adore Alliteration)

  2. Excellent read! How do you do it?!! You didnt take a note all night! (chaliewaddell80)