French Open 2015: Majestic Wawrinka denies Djokovic to win second Major

Stan Wawrinka beats Novak Djokovic in the French Open final to win his second Grand Slam title

Few can question that Novak Djokovic is the dominant force in men’s tennis.

He stands clear of the competition in the rankings by 4,600 points, has already won the Australian Open and four Masters titles this year, has won more matches than anyone else in 2015, was unbeaten on clay as he walked onto court for the last match of the clay season at Roland Garros, and was on a streak of 28 wins, his last loss coming in the final of Dubai in February.

And a look at the company he was now keeping in Grand Slam statistics said it all. He was playing in his 16th final, the same number reached by Bjorn Borg and Ken Rosewall, and more than Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Bill Tilden.

He was aiming to become the first man in 23 years to win the first two Majors of the year. He was aiming to become just the eighth man in history to complete a career Grand Slam with the only one missing from his resume. He would also keep alive his chances of the rarest of Grand Slam achievements, a calendar Grand Slam. For all his 17 Majors, even Roger Federer had not managed to win all four Majors in the same year. Djokovic could join Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only men in history to do so.

Even when he was drawn in the same half as nine-time former champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, with No3 seed Andy Murray in the semis, Djokovic remained the favourite to reach the final and to go on and claim the title. And he made his expected progress without dropping a set, or even playing a tie-break, until his five-setter against great rival Murray.

Djokovic may well have predicted meeting a Swiss in the final, but the chances are he would not have expected it to be Stan Wawrinka, who put out compatriot Federer in the quarters.

And on paper, that made Djokovic’s chances even better: 20 times he had played Wawrinka, 17 times beaten him, and that improved to 16 out of their last 17 matches.

But those results disguised an under-the-surface storyline that had brought Wawrinka to his first French Open final, a story that began when Wawrinka’s results, confidence and ranking dipped in 2012.

He determined to follow the mantra he has tattooed on his left arm, Samuel Beckett’s “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

He took on coach Magnus Norman and his tennis became more aggressive and forward-moving, his physical shape grew sharper, faster and had greater endurance. And the new model, self-titled “Stan the Man” was on full show in his first full-length Grand Slam match against Djokovic, a truly memorable fourth-round five-setter at the 2013 Australian Open. The defending champion survived, 12-10, in the fifth set, but it had made a point. A point that, seven months later, was made again in their next meeting, this time at the US Open: another five-setter that Wawrinka led by two sets to one before losing again.

Come their next Grand Slam meeting, in last year’s Australian quarter-final, though, Wawrinka would beat Djokovic, 9-7 in the fifth set of another marathon.

Believe it or not, they met again in this year’s Australian Open, in the semis, and they would go again to five sets, this time Djokovic coming out the winner. But by now, Wawrinka had made other landmarks: defeat of Federer to win his first Masters in Monte Carlo, of Rafael Nadal on Rome’s clay last month, and again beating Federer here this week.

So Wawrinka knew he had the beating of Djokovic if he could dominate with his power-packed backhand, his almost-as-strong forehand, and his serving.

“Maybe he’s going to play his best tennis and beat me in straight sets. But I know we have been having some big fights on the hard courts… I know that he’s not always happy to play me when I can play my game. When I can play my aggressive game he’s not feeling his best normally. So I will have to focus on myself and try to bring my ‘A’ game.”

Wawrinka did just that, and he had to. The opening game of the match went to break point, produced a 39-point rally, and lasted five minutes before the Swiss held. But he was under pressure on serve through most of the set, facing a break point in the fifth, too, and a couple of loose backhands in the seventh was enough to give the clinical Djokovic the chance to strike: He broke to love.

Wawrinka fired up his forehand to earn break back point, and had a second chance with an extraordinary backhand, but Djokovic’s serve came to the rescue and he held for 6-4.

But the Serb had seen the warning signs: Wawrinka was warming up his formidable backhand, a match-winning shot in its own right whether hit down the line or cross-court, in blistering attack or in sliced defence. It is a thing of beauty, and ably backed by an equally muscular forehand.

The Swiss cracked out all the shots to pressure even the flexible, impenetrable Djokvoic defence in game after game. After an initial love hold, the Serb faced break points three times in a row.

Djokovic tried to break the baseline rhythm with a growing number of drop shots, but they became increasingly ineffective. Serving a 4-5, he saw first a backhand flash past him down the line and then a forehand. The tension was palpable as Djokovic bounced the ball 19 times while he waited for the crowd to quieten on set point, but was forced into the error: the match was level, 6-4.

The points were level too, 67-66, but Wawrinka’s attacking tennis was cranking up winners at an accelerating rate, 28 to the Serb’s 13. So Djokovic tried to mix it up some more, made some net moves, but come the sixth game, it was more of the same from Wawrinka. A 20th forehand winner, a backhand down the line, and he had three break points: He needed only one.

One of the shots of the match threatened to break Djokovic again, a quite remarkable running backhand winner round the net post, but Wawrinka would have to serve it out, and he did to love, 6-3.

At the start of the fourth, his adrenalin, or maybe his nerves, got the better of Wawrinka, and a couple of careless shots gave up a break: Meanwhile, Djokovic seemed to be on a roll, now pumping himself on with the support of the crowd.

But Wawrinka refocused, and broke back, to pull level from 0-3 to 3-3. Even so, Djokovic pressed on, had three break points, but Wawrinka won five points in a row—and went on the attack again, now a backhand cross-court pass, now beating Djokovic at the net, now a backhand down-the-line winner for the break. He had only to serve out the match to be champion.

There was still drama: a break point, and several missed first serves but, as the moment demanded, it was the Wawrinka backhand that provided the coup de grace, 6-4, after more than three hours of some of the finest tennis of the entire championships.

And so the gracious loser promised to return next year to try and complete that Slam, cheered to the rafters by an appreciative Paris crowd. But the equally gracious Wawrinka, having beaten the top two seeds here, takes the spoils, and will rise to No4 in the rankings tomorrow.

His bold, exciting tennis had totted up 59 winners, but it will be his walk past the net to embrace his disconsolate opponent that will abide in the memory. Here were not just two great champions, but also two great sportsmen.

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