Wawrinka Moves Past Djokovic At The US Open
Stan Wawrinka, the 2016 US Open champion, has advanced to the quarter-finals in Flushing Meadows. The No. 23 seed broke for a 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 lead over World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Sunday evening on Arthur Ashe Stadium when the 16-time Grand Slam titlist retired due to a left shoulder injury.
"It's never the way you want to finish a match. I feel sorry for Novak. He's a friend and an amazing champion. We've played some amazing battles all my career," Wawrinka said on court after the match. "I want to keep my level [from] tonight. I was playing some very good tennis. I am happy to be back."
Wawrinka defeated a World No. 1 for the fifth time (5-21), and he is into the last eight at the season's final Grand Slam for the fifth time in his six most recent appearances. Djokovic, who received treatment on his left shoulder after the second set, had not lost before the quarter-finals in Flushing Meadows since 2006, when he was only 19.
The top seed still leads the pair's FedEx ATP Head2Head series 19-6, but Wawrinka has earned his four most recent victories in the rivalry at the majors. In 2016, the Swiss defeated Djokovic in a four-set final here in New York.
"It helped me big time. Knowing that I have the game to beat him in that stadium. Tonight I was feeling great," Wawrinka said. "I realised when I came to practice that I was moving well, so I was quite confident that I was going to bring a good level tonight."
It's been a tough journey for Wawrinka back to form after missing the end of the 2017 season after Wimbledon as well as nearly three months in 2018 after undergoing two left knee surgeries in August 2017. But now, the three-time major titlist will have a chance to reach the last four of a Slam for the first time since those operations when he faces in-form No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev next.
"It's been really tough since the surgery. It's taken me two years to be back at this level," Wawrinka said. "When I was on this court last year I wasn't really ready but it's amazing to be back at this level and the atmosphere is something special."
It appeared after a lackluster first set that Djokovic righted his ship to begin the second set, breaking in his first return game, eventually taking a 3-0 lead. But after saving one break point at 4-2, Djokovic played great defence to position himself to stave off another opportunity before missing an inside-out forehand both wide and long on a neutral ball.
From there, it felt as if it was a matter of time before Wawrinka added another crack to Djokovic's armour. The Swiss increasingly drew the 16-time Grand Slam champion into bruising baseline rallies, leading to uncharacteristic errors from the top seed. And after letting slip a chance at 4-4, Wawrinka converted at 5-5 when Djokovic missed a forehand volley into the net off a backhand passing shot. The former World No. 3 then earned a two-set advantage by holding serve.
Djokovic has a well-earned reputation as one of the best returners in the history of the sport. But a key in the match was Wawrinka's first-serve performance. Thanks to pinpoint accuracy, leading to 43 per cent of his serves not coming back into play, Wawrinka won 84 per cent of his first-serve points (32/38).
"This is what you practise for: to show your best level in the big matches and tonight was something special," Djokovic said. "I know the way I can play. I have won three Grand Slams, so I am going to fight to win more matches here."
Wawrinka's next opponent, Medvedev, eliminated German qualifier Dominik Koepfer earlier in the day. Their only previous matchup came two years ago at Wimbledon, where Medvedev burst onto the scene by upsetting Wawrinka in four sets. This will be the Russian's first Grand Slam quarter-final.
"He's been playing final after final and winning Cincinnati. He's been playing very good tennis," Wawrinka said. "It's going to be a very interesting match, I'm sure. I'm happy to be in the quarter-final and happy to play against him."
Djokovic has won four of the past five Grand Slam championships, and in the fifth tournament he reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros this year. So the Serbian is understandably disappointed to have to retire.
"it is frustrating. Very frustrating. Obviously not the first, not the last player to get injured and to withdraw from one of the biggest events in sport," Djokovic said. "But obviously I just came off the court, so of course it hurts."