Ever since the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal era came to an end, no player has dominated tennis like Novak Djokovic. And while the Serb has openly credited the two legends for making him the player he is today, on Monday morning at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic heard the same words of praise for himself, albeit from a different player - Stanislas Wawrinka.
"Novak, you`re a great champion, a great person, because of you I`m where I am today. I`d like to congratulate you on everything you have done," Wawrinka said during the presentation ceremony.
"It`s amazing. I came here without the goal of winning it, but I stepped on the court trying to win the match.
"I played a lot of tennis, I am completely empty."
And it wasn’t for the first time that the Swiss was lavishing praise on his Serbian opponent. These two share great on-court camaraderie, something which was evident when Wawrinka sympathized at the nets with Djoker after depriving him of a Career Slam by winning the French Open final last year.
Even at the presentation ceremony at Roland Garros, Wawrinka was on his feet as the crowd gave a rare two-minute standing ovation to the runners-up.
At the US Open this year, Wawrinka wasn’t at his best. Not to forget, he saved a match point against unheralded Briton Dan Evans in a five-set third-round match. But that’s the difference. He almost becomes invincible when he sees Djokovic on the other side of the net.
There is something very likeable about Wawrinka's playing style. While that stunning one-handed backhand leapfrogged Rafa's forehand as the most brutal shot in modern-day tennis for quite some time now, his insatiable hunger to excel in Grand Slams, especially against Novak, is something which puts the Swiss in a different league altogether.
Despite being an underdog going into the US Open final against defending champion Novak, Wawrinka would have been high on confidence considering he had won ten finals in a row.
As the match started, both the players reminded the fans of their past clashes in Grand Slams. While Djokovic dominated the first set, slowly but steadily, Wawrinka got in his groove. The Serb however clinched the first set after Stan won just one point in the first tie-breaker.
For any other opponent, it is close to impossible to bounce back once Djokovic starts dominating. But the World No.1 would have been least complacent against Wawrinka, since he has on two occasions bounced back to win the match after losing the first set in majors against Djoker. Interestingly, Djokovic has lost just four matches in Grand Slams after winning the first set, two of those defeats have come against Wawrinka.
Thus he would have known that the job wasn’t done after winning the first set. And as the match proceeded, Wawrinka unleashed the Stanimal – something which for sure would have become a fear factor for Djokovic in Grand Slams by now. Stan pointing a finger towards his temple – his signature pose, is something the fans saw on a lot of occasions in the US Open final.
And once he gets the backhand going, while it sends a new adrenaline rush in his box, it dents his opponent’s mind.
In the latter half of the match, Djokovic, who had an easy run to the final, was seen in severe pain, but he made sure to complete the match. Instead of losing focus, Wawrinka continued to strengthen his grip with more winners and eventually left Djokovic heartbroken yet again.
With that win, Wawrinka became the fifth man in the Open Era to win multiple major singles crowns after turning 30, joining Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors.
Since they share enormous respect for each other, Nole too was full of praise for his opponent after the match.
"He definitely deserves to be mentioned in the mix of top players," Djokovic said about Wawrinka.
"He's been around for so many years and he plays best in the big matches.
"I lost my nerves in the important moments. He kept his cool. I think that's what decided the match. I just didn't capitalize at all on my opportunities. I had plenty of them. It was a terrible conversion of the break points. Just terrible from my side.”
Andy Murray, Federer and Nadal have been at the receiving end against Djokovic in Grand Slams as they buckle under pressure, but Wawrinka is different. He doesn’t look this threatening against any other player. Even Djokovic might wonder what makes the Swiss save his best to stop his trophy-winning spree.
Having spent most of his career as ‘the other Swiss’, with his third Grand Slam title, the spotlight is back on Wawrinka – the man who has mastered the art of decoding Djokovic.
Next time these two are up against in a Grand Slam, the stats won’t matter, Djokovic’s fitness won’t matter, and neither would his unmatchable flexibility. It would be foolish to predict anything against Wawrinka.
The pace at which Djokovic has been winning Grand Slams, he is the hot favorite to surpass Federer's record of highest number of majors (17). However, the journey won't be smooth as long as Novak sees Wawrinka on the other side of the net in Grand Slam finals.