Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic took to Rod Laver Arena for their fourth-round match to cap off the the night session of Day 7 of the 2013 Australian Open. Because Wawrinka has had a tendency to not play his best on the biggest stages, it was supposed to be yet another Djokovic romp. He had put on vintage performances in his first three matches, and this one against the Swiss veteran was not expected to be any different. However, it became obvious early on that Stan had other ideas. He came out firing on all cylinders, breaking Djokovic three times en route to winning the opening set of the match 6-1. Novak struggled mightily with his serve, double faulting and spinning in serves, which was giving Wawarinka the opportunity to go after both his forehands and backhands. Furthermore, Stan was serving extremely well early, constantly making Djokovic, the best returner in the history of the game, look uncomfortable.
The second set, shockingly, started off much of the same way, with Wawrinka once again registering an early break and jumping out to a 5-2 lead. He was suddenly one game away from a 2-set lead against the heavy favorite. Throughout the first 14 games of the match, we were all wondering when Novak Djokovic was going to jump to another gear and take control of the match. This seemingly happened as he faced this 5-2 deficit in the second set. Djokovic started powering serves past Wawrinka, and his return game caught fire. Five games later, Djokovic took the second set 7-5, and Wawrinka just looked lost. He had played very well through two sets against the No. 1 player in the world, yet the match was all tied up.
For all intensive purposes, this fourth-round match looked like it was only an hour or so from being over when Djokovic broke Wawrinka in his first service game of the third set. However, after breaking back and holding serve a few times, the Swiss veteran seemed to settle back into the flow of the match. Djokovic, meanwhile, was giving himself chances to pull ahead again, but was not able to do this until he broke Stan at 4-all in the third set and easily served out the set. To be honest, at this point, I was just about sure that this fourth-round match would be all said and done in under an hour. Even though Wawrinka wa sstill palying at a high-level, Novak had really stepped his game up and was winning key points. Nevertheless, the quality of tennis was tremendous, and little did we know that this was just the start.
The fourth set started off with hold after hold after hold. Wawrinka found himself with a few opportunities to break, yet Djokovic cracked impressive groundstrokes when he was up against it. Meanwhile, Novak was having a hard time really getting into Wawarinka's service games. The Australian crowd inside Rod Laver Arena really became a factor in the fourth set, showing their desire to witness a fifth set of tennis between these two great competitors. Not surprisingly, this crucial set would be decided in a tiebreak. It was just a few games before this tiebreak that Wawrinka had started receiving some treatment from the trainer at every changover. He appeared to just be cramping up, and his game was not suffering at all. Stan jumped out to a 4-0 lead in this fourth-set tiebreak and never gave Novak a chance to get back into it, serving out the tiebreak at 6-5. The crowd rose in a frenzy, seemingly satisfied with the fact that this match would be going the distance. They had no idea, however, what they were about to witness.
In the fifth and deciding set, it was Wawrinka's turn to gain an early break and then immediately give it back. He had a few more chances to break in Novak's next service game, but Djokovic held on and this last set settled into a nice rhythm, with both men exchanging tremendous groundstrokes point after point. As this match came upon and passed the four-hour mark, Wawrinka and Djokovic were still holding serve... 7-7, 8-7 Novak, 8-8, 9-8 Novak, 9-9...
Even though Stan found himself in the rough spot serving second in this fifth set, he semed to be doing just fine. He was really trying to get the raucous Australian crowd behind him, signaling for them to stand up and cheer after several impressive points. It became obvious that both players were cramping pretty badly as the match headed towards five hours in length. At 10-all in the fifth and final set, Djokovic held relatively easily, putting all the pressure back on Wawrinka. After jumping out to an early lead in his service game, Wawrinka found himself down a match point after a grueling back-and-forth rally. Stan responded with an ace and gave humself a game point, before Novak once again battled back, creating a second match point. This time, Wawrinka unleashed on a vicious backhand down the line, really pumping up the crowd. A few points later, Djokovic found himself with a third match point. This next point would just about sum up the entire match. Wawrinka was seemingly on the offensive, pushing Djokovic from side-to-side. After a Djokovic shot which landed short, Wawrinka approached the net with a slice to the Novak backhand. Djokovic, has he has hundreds of times in his career, seemingly did the impossible, manuevering the ball past Wawrinka's racket for a jaw-dropping passing shot and for a spot in the quarterfinals. Both players hit the deck, one in joy and the other in pain and anguish. As these two warriors embraced each other at the net, Stan was in tears and left the court a few minutes later to a rousing standing ovation. Djokovic proceeded to once again rip his shirt off and scream in joy, much as he had 12 months before on that very court in the 2012 Australian Open Final. In conclusion, Novak's 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7 12-10 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka might be the match of the year and really got this tournament going. Enjoy week two!