It turns out a talented Swiss was destined for the U.S. Open men’s semifinals after all—just not the one the experts expected.
The 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory moves the 10th-ranked player out from the significant shadow of fellow-countryman Roger Federer and directly into the path of the game’s top-ranked player, Novak Djokovic.
Six-time Slam winner Djokovic will battle Wawrinka on Arthur Ashe Court on Saturday afternoon for the right to advance to Monday’s final.
The powerful Serbian took out Mikhail Youzhny in four sets late on Thursday to earn his 14th consecutive trip to a Slam semifinal.
What was expected to be a third Murray-Djokovic Slam showdown of 2013 will instead feature Wawrinka attempting to pull another huge shocker by preventing the Serb from reaching a fourth straight U.S. Open final.
On paper, the matchup seems to greatly favor Djokovic, but Grand Slams are decided on courts and not in notebooks. Wawrinka is playing the best tennis of his career and will give the game’s top player everything he wants this weekend.
Whether or not it will be enough remains to be seen, but if Thursday’s quarterfinals were any indication, we should assume nothing and just sit back and enjoy the action as it plays out between two streaking players.
As if it wasn't enough that he defeated the defending U.S. Open champion Murray in straight sets on Thursday, Wawrinka now has to deal with top-seeded Djokovic in the semifinals.
Few expected Wawrinka to reach the second weekend at Flushing Meadows and if his past performances against the powerful Serbian are any indication, even fewer expect him to go any further.
In 15 career ATP matches against Djokovic, the Swiss star has won only two and has dropped an astounding 11 straight to the world’s top-ranked player.
That level of absolute dominance would give many significant pause before backing the No. 9 seed, but his recent stellar play and a five-set battle with Djokovic back in January at the Australian Open might be reason to go against conventional wisdom.
In the fourth round of the year’s first Slam, Wawrinka pushed the eventual champion like no one else could Down Under. After winning the fourth set in a tight tiebreak, the 10th-ranked player battled courageously in an epic fifth set before falling 10-12 at the bitter end.
Other than that instant classic, the two have tussled in the main draw of a Grand Slam only one other time. The world No. 1 captured the first two sets of their fourth-round match at last year’s U.S. Open before Wawrinka was forced to retire at 1-3 in the third.
The last time Wawrinka got the better of his semifinal opponent was a straight-sets victory in 2006 in Vienna, which at this point must seem like a lifetime ago for the 28-year-old. He also bested Djokovic earlier that same year on the clay in Croatia.
Given the lopsided history with Djokovic, it will take a career effort for Wawrinka to reach his first Grand Slam final this weekend.
Then again, who expected the Swiss player to reach his first Slam semifinal by taking apart Murray in the quarterfinals?
With due respect to Rafael Nadal, there simply hasn't been a more dominant player in the men’s side of the draw in the 2013 U.S. Open than Djokovic.
Looking to win just his second U.S. Open title, the Serb has cruised through his first five matches like a cold assassin. That run was cemented by a convincing four-set victory over Youzhny on Thursday night.
Not only has he lost just one set during his march to meet Wawrinka, he’s won four sets at love along the way.
Hoping to erase any doubt he’s the game’s most dominant force, Djokovic has been exactly that at Flushing Meadows. His return of serve has been strong, his service game clean and his play from the baseline simply overpowering.
Just as importantly, the 26-year-old seems to have regained his championship focus after a relatively uneven hard-court summer season in which he went winless and lost to Nadal and John Isner in the process.
Those struggles came after his difficult loss in the Wimbledon final to Murray, a setback that followed a grueling five-set semifinal loss to Rafa in the French Open back in May.
Rather than being disheartened, the Serbian appears to have found his groove.
That’s bad news for Wawrinka considering the No. 1 seed hasn't dropped a match to the 10th-ranked player since 2006 and doesn't appear to have any holes in his game right now.
Wawrinka didn't just beat the defending U.S. Open champ and reigning Wimbledon king on Thursday to reach the semifinals, he absolutely obliterated him.
That victory, which came in three relatively-easy sets in which the Swiss star won 107 points to only 78 for Murray, is just the latest in a number of impressive results for the No. 9 seed as he has made his surprising run.
Despite a disappointing summer in which he was bounced in the first round of Wimbledon and won only two hard-court matches, Wawrinka has been on his game at Flushing Meadows.
Third seed Murray discovered that as he was denied a trip to the finals for the first time in the past five Slams he's started. Wawrinka didn't lose a single service game in beating the Scot and certainly gained a world of confidence in the process.
En route to the semis,Wawrinka has dropped only two sets and has now beaten a pair of top-five seeds. Prior to his quarterfinals triumph, Wawrinka took out No. 5 seed Thomas Berdych in four sets despite dropping the first 3-6.
Throughout the event, the world's 10th-ranked player has displayed a dominant first serve coupled with powerful ground strokes that have continually kept his opponents off balance.
His single-handed backhand has been among the best in the tournament.
George W. Bush was President of the United States the last time Wawrinka beat Djokovic.
Since then,Djokovic has beaten Wawrinka , including the last two matches they've played in a Grand Slam. Given that level of dominance, how much confidence can the Swiss have heading into their semifinal clash?
Yes, Wawrinka has played his best tennis of the year at the U.S. Open and took out Murray with great ease. But Djokovic has been equally as impressive, giving little hope to his upset-minded opponent that a poor performance is forthcoming.
Making matters all the more difficult, Wawrinka is in unchartered territory, adding to an already pressure-filled showdown with Djokovic.
Wawrinka was in great form against Murray, but there’s no telling how the even-larger stage of a U.S. Open semifinal will affect him.
For Djokovic, it’s really all about his focus, which at times can go sideways in the sport’s biggest events.
The Serbian was cruising to a straight-sets victory against Youzhny before allowing two breaks of serve in the third set that extended the match one set beyond where it should have gone.
The same thing has happened to Djokovic in other Slams and he needs to avoid those slips against Wawrinka, who is riding a wave of confidence.
It’s fair to assume that Djokovic expected and relished the idea of facing recent-rival Murray in the semifinals.
Yet with Wawrinka now the player standing between him and a likely date with Nadal, it’s imperative Djokovic keeps his focus and does not get caught looking ahead to Monday.
If Djokovic plays his game and is anywhere near the standard he’s shown through five matches at Flushing Meadows, he’s going to be near impossible for Wawrinka to beat.
On a quest to win his second career U.S .Open title, the 28-year-old has simply dismantled his opponents with an intimidating mix of power, focus and consistency.
Djokovic has only once been forced into a fourth set during the Open fortnight and is healthy and rested heading into the match.
To his credit, Wawrinka has only dropped two sets during his run, but the Swiss has never advanced this far in a Grand Slam and one has to wonder how much is left in his tank.
Whatever is left will be tested early on as Djokovic will look to sap the confidence his opponent has gained.
If Novak get an early lead, it will be difficult for Wawrinka to respond to the power and focus of the Serbian.
Beating Djokovic while ahead is difficult enough, getting him from behind is essentially impossible.
Wawrinka has to serve a high first percentage and keep Djokovic off balance with his multi-court game if he is to have any chance of pulling the upset.
Against Murray, his service game was strong throughout and carried him to the upset victory. In fact, Wawrinka avoided a single break of serve by capturing more than 75 percent of his first-serve points against the reigning Wimbledon champion.
He will need to do the same to neutralize Djokovic’s return game, which is stronger than Murray’s and can dominate a match, especially on his opponents’ second serves.
In addition to serving well, the 28-year-old will need to mix things up, just as he did against the No. 3 seed in the quarters.
Picking his spots with great aptitude, Wawrinka came into the net on key points and utilized a “chip and charge” game to keep Murray off balance and guessing on his own serve throughout the match.
It won’t be quite as easy against Novak, but simply sitting on the baseline and trying to hammer away against the powerful Serbian is a game plan that will ultimately fail.
Considering his losing run to Djokovic, Wawrinka is fully aware of that fact and has already shown a willingness to step outside his typical playbook.
Since this is the Swiss player’s first-ever foray to a Grand Slam semifinal, in essence he is playing with house money against the six-time Grand Slam winner.
If he not only accepts that but embraces it, a third straight upset and unexpected trip to the final could be the net result.
Wawrinka has more than earned his surprising place into the semifinals. Getting the better of Djokovic, however, simply isn't on the cards.
It’s not because the No. 9 seed doesn't have the game to win a Grand Slam; he absolutely showed he does against Murray in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic is simply playing too well and is too focused to be beaten by any player not named Nadal in this U.S. Open.
The powerful Serb will be aggressive from the outset, looking to pressure Wawrinka's strong serve while keeping him pinned deep with solid and aggressive ground strokes.
Wawrinka will counter with a solid effort as his game has never been in better form, but Djokovic is playing at such a high level that anything less than a trip to a fourth straight U.S. Open final would be a shock.
Once there, the Serbian will look to win his second career U.S. Open title and will likely find longtime rival and nemesis Nadal waiting for him.
That’s the showdown everyone has been pointing to since the season’s final Slam began 11 days ago.