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Novak Djokovic vs Stan Wawrinka US Open tennis live: Wawrinka’s ten-match winning streak in finals in danger at the US Open Tennis -

Andrew Hendrie 11 Sep 2016
  • Novak Djokovic faces Stan Wawrinka in the final of the 2016 US Open
  • Djokovic vs Wawrinka US Open tennis is live from New York on Sunday at 4pm local/9pm BST

A third Grand Slam title in 2016 would remind everybody that Novak Djokovic is still the undisputed ruler of men’s tennis – but can he weather the fearsome shotmaking of Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final?

Novak Djokovic aims to avenge his French Open defeat in 2015 at the hands of Stan Wawrinka as the pair prepare to face off in a second Grand Slam final – this time it’s the 2016 US Open on the line. 

Should Novak Djokovic defeat Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final on Sunday to claim his third title in New York and thirteenth Grand Slam title overall, it will be remembered as one of the stranger runs to a major title in recent memory – at least until it becomes a little less recent and is merged into the general glory of the Serb’s glittering career.

Djokovic, as his coach Marian Vajda revealed, wasn’t even sure that he would be able to play the US Open after the wrist injury he incurred in the run-up to the fourth Grand Slam of the year (not to be confused with the ‘personal problems’, unspecified but apparently resolved, which contributed to his third-round defeat to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon; or the emotional impact of his first-round defeat at the Rio Olympics at the hands of Juan Martin del Potro). Then he came to New York and was the beneficiary of a walkover and two retirements, meaning that for the first five rounds of the tournament he played only two completed matches – against Jerzy Janowicz and Kyle Edmund – while his colleagues, even those who managed to come through without dropping a set, struggled and sweated in the brutal heat and humidity. 

Gael Monfils, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent, was one of those who came through the draw without dropping a set but their encounter on Friday was hardly the no-holds-barred shotmaking duel we dared to hope for. Obviously determined to try something different after 12 defeats to Djokovic, Monfils tried a variety of tactics, including serve-and-volleying and rallying unbelievably softly and listlessly from the baseline, to try to throw Djokovic off. None of them were well executed and none of them worked, although Djokovic hardly appeared to be having a good time either; he had multiple changeover treatments on his left shoulder, then a medical timeout for his right shoulder before closing out the four-set victory 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. 

To have multiple trainer visits and a medical timeout and then to insist, as Djokovic did, that there are no physical concerns ahead of the final – ‘It’s behind me, so I don’t have any concerns,’ he said gnomically – is almost as strange as the experience of watching the match. But nothing about Djokovic’s progress to the final has been normal. It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, all of that lack of rhythm and match-play might affect the world no. 1’s performance in the final.

Lack of match play has not been Stan Wawrinka’s problem at this US Open. The third seed had his own injury concerns in the lead-up to the event – he withdrew from the Olympics with a back injury, and did not look fit to compete at either the Canada or Cincinnati Masters, although he reached the semifinals of the former – and despite his solid record at the US Open, where he has reached the semifinals two of the past three years, many tapped him for an early exit in New York.
Wawrinka avoided that early exit despite a tough first-round match against Fernando Verdasco, a match which may have been a blessing in disguise: It certainly woke the third seed up and got his competitive juices flowing right at the beginning of the tournament. Wawrinka went on to survive a mighty scare in the third round against Great Britain’s Dan Evans, battling through that one in five sets, and four-set clashes against Ilya Marchenko and Juan Martin del Potro before facing Kei Nishikori in the semifinals. The fifth seed made a flawless start and Wawrinka looked for a while like he might be in serious trouble, but the two-time Grand Slam champion started to find his range on his pulverizing groundstrokes. 

There are few men in tennis who can hit like Wawrinka when the Swiss star is feeling it and despite Nishikori’s high level of play, he faded physically as Wawrinka began to dominate the rallies to run him from side to side and Wawrinka wrapped up a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory to reach his first US Open final. He has played 23 sets to reach the final in New York; Djokovic just 14. In the brutal heat and humidity prevailing in New York, at the end of a long and intense summer for both men, that must play a huge factor in a final which will unavoidably be at least partly a grueling physical battle.

Asking players about their tactics against upcoming opponents is always a thankless task, but Wawrinka kept it extremely simple when he answered.

‘The secret is simple: I have to play my best tennis, my best game,’ Wawrinka said. ‘He’s the no. 1 player, amazing fighter, amazing player, but I have enough confidence in myself that when I play my best level I can beat him. Hopefully I can bring that Sunday.’ 

It sounds very simplistic – Wawrinka just has to play his best tennis to beat Djokovic – but it’s actually somewhat accurate. Wawrinka is one of the very, very few players in the men’s game who can hit through Djokovic, can batter through his unbelievable defense and force the world no. 1 back off the baseline and into errors with sheer weight of shot – and Wawrinka can do it off both wings, too, able to attack down the lines as well as cross-court on both forehand and backhand.
Both shots down the line will be crucial, but it’s almost-impossibly difficult to execute those shots down the line with the amount of pace and precision Wawrinka will need to muster to defeat Djokovic, and that’s one of the reasons why Djokovic owns such a commanding 20-4 advantage in the head-to-head, at one point winning 14 straight matches against Wawrinka between 2007 and 2013.

Wawrinka snapped that six-year streak of dominance at the Australian Open in 2014 when he defeated Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth, and defeated Djokovic again at the French Open in 2015 to claim that title (Wawrinka is on a ten-match winning streak in finals, and last lost one at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in June 2013). Djokovic won their last two meetings in commanding style, however, and also won their only US Open meeting which was a completed match, a five-set clash in 2013. 

This match feels more unpredictable than it should, given the overwhelming advantage Djokovic enjoys in the head-to-head, although arguably their head-to-head is a much more even 5-2 for the Serb since Wawrinka became the current top-player model in 2014. Partly that’s because we haven’t seen enough of Djokovic to really get a sense of where he is physically or mentally; he looked so sharp against Tsonga in the quarterfinals, but was a bag of nerves and pains (with a particularly egregious amount of double-faulting) against Monfils. And partly because Wawrinka will have to produce one of his absolute best performances, dominating from the baseline while giving up very few errors, to beat Djokovic in this final – and we won’t know whether he has that in his locker until he takes the court. 

Still, the percentages are in Djokovic’s favour, as is the significantly smaller amount of tennis that the world no. 1 has played to reach this point. A three- or four-set win for the Serb seems on the cards – as does a third Grand Slam title in 2016 – when the US Open men’s final is played on Sunday. 

Djokovic vs Wawrinka is scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Sunday at 4pm local/9pm BST


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Novak Djokovic vs Stan Wawrinka US Open tennis live: Wawrinka’s ten-match winning streak in finals in danger at the US Open Tennis -

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