Brain Game: Wawrinka Gets Physical
Wawrinka backed himself from the back of the court to defeat Novak Djokovic 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3, crushing 17 forehand and 14 backhand winners along the way to capture Grand Slam silverware for the third time in his career.
Coming into the final, Wawrinka actually had a losing record from the baseline, only winning 48 per cent (401/835), while Djokovic was flying high as a tournament leader in this critical category, winning 58 per cent (240/413).
But in the physical final, the Swiss turned Djokovic’s vaunted baseline game into a losing proposition, lowering its success rate by 10 percentage points to a lowly 46.8 per cent. Wawrinka stayed right around his average, winning 47.8 per cent from the back of the court.
To achieve the unlikely advantage from the trenches, Wawrinka had to run more, but that was a small price to pay to ultimately hold the coveted US Open trophy.
Wawrinka ran 4339 metres in the four sets, while Djokovic was only at 4067 metres. Wawrinka averaged running 15.17 metres per point, while Djokovic was slightly lower at 14.22 metres.
It took Wawrinka a while to figure out the best way to attack Djokovic in the constant baseline battles. The Swiss started Set 1 with very deep court position, which didn’t allow him to make Djokovic uncomfortable as his ball landed short, allowing Djokovic to consistently play off the front foot.
Wawrinka only won 35 per cent (16/46) of his baseline points in the opening set, but that improved to 53 per cent (20/38) in Set 2, 51 per cent in Set 3, and a very healthy 54 per cent (20/37) in the fourth and final set.
Wawrinka wore down Djokovic in the longer rallies of 9+ shots in the first three sets, winning them 28-19. This created doubt in Djokovic’s mind that he could go toe-to-toe with the Swiss as the end of the match rushed fast at both players.
In the deciding fourth set, Wawrinka upped the ante in the shorter rallies, winning the 0-4 rally length 18-13, and the 5-8 shot rally length 12-7. It was a masterful strategic adjustment to put Djokovic away earlier in the point before he could find a way back from a two sets to one deficit.
Wawrinka served considerably better in the Ad court throughout the match, making 65 per cent (39/52) of his first serves there, compared to only 48 per cent (26/40) in the Deuce court. In keeping with form, he won 75 per cent of his first serve points in the Ad, and only 65 per cent in the Deuce.
Things flipped with second serve performance, as the Swiss won 57 per cent of his second serve points in the Deuce court, and only 43 per cent in the Ad court.
Wawrinka saved a critical 14/17 break points for the match, including coming back from 0-40 leading 3-1 in the second set. He also saved three break points in the opening game of the third set. In the fourth set, with Djokovic threatening a comeback from a 3-1 hole, Wawrinka again saved three break points to hold serve.
On break point, Wawrinka made 10-17 first serves, and saved 5/7 behind his second serve.
Wawrinka’s comeback victory showed tremendous belief to execute a physically demanding strategy, going head on with Djokovic’s favorite baseline game style. The net was a distant secondary tactic for Wawrinka, only winning 11 points on 20 forays forward.
At the end of the night, Wawrinka won just one more point (144-143) than Djokovic, but he ultimately owned the baseline, stood tall on break points, and kept his head clear when a raucous New York crowd primarily showed their support for the World No. 1.
Beating an opponent on the world’s biggest stage at what they do best takes guts, conviction and outstanding execution over almost four hours of tennis. Wawrinka walked into the lions’ den and not only survived, but stole the show.