After finally passing his Novak Djokovic test, Stanislas Wawrinka finds Tomas Berdych standing in between him and a first-ever Grand Slam final in the 2014 Australian Open.
Wawrinka defeated Djokovic in yet another five-set thriller on Tuesday, ending the Serbian’s three-year reign as Australian champion, and avenging his loss to him in last year’s round of 32 Down Under. More importantly, the 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 victory sends the talented Swiss netter to a semifinal date with Berdych, who is making an unexpected run of his own in Melbourne.
Berdych defeated No. 3 seed David Ferrer in four sets Tuesday to reach his first-ever Australian semifinal, and is seeking to add to the Wimbledon final he reached in 2010 before falling to Rafael Nadal.
Albeit unexpected, the matchup between the two men should be an entertaining battle of power and determination considering their strong performances during this Australian fortnight and the quality of their careers overall. Combined, Wawrinka and Berdych have won 13 titles, and one of them will be making a first-ever appearance in the Australian Open finals come Sunday.
While we’ll have to wait to find out which one continues the surprising journey toward Slam glory, here is a look at what to expect when they take the court against one another on Thursday.
Wawrinka and Berdych are anything but strangers on the competitive tennis court, having met 13 times, including twice in Davis Cup battles.
While Wawrinka has gotten the better of those confrontations eight to five, the matches have tended to be tightly contested, promising great things to come from their Thursday semifinal tussle.
In fact, the duo met a surprising four times last year, with Wawrinka winning the final three contests, including a four-set triumph in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Berdych did manage to best the Swiss player in a four-set battle that helped deliver a Davis Cup victory to his native Czech Republic back in February. In that same event, the two played against one another in an epic doubles competition that lasted more than seven hours and was won by the Czechs 24-22 in the fifth set.
Berdych also owns the only previous contest between the two at the Australian Open, defeating Wawrinka in four sets during the third round of the 2009 competition despite dropping the first set 6-4. The pair has met eight times on the hard courts, with Wawrinka winning six of them.
There really is no way to overstate the importance of Wawrinka’s quarterfinal victory over Djokovic. Not only had the Serbian bounced him from the 2013 Australian Open, he got the better of him in another five-set battle in the semifinals of last year's U.S. Open.
In fact, Wawrinka had lost 14 consecutive matches to the world’s second-ranked player before his breakthrough on Tuesday, but can now leave those disappointments behind him as he readies for a new challenge in Thursday’s semifinal.
As evidenced by his quarterfinal victory, the Swiss native is definitely working with his A-game in Australia. His ground strokes have been powerful, his serve is dialed in and the determination he showed in besting Djokovic should keep him focused and grounded against Berdych.
In addition to that solid form, Wawrinka has been the beneficiary of some good fortune Down Under as well. The five-time ATP winner was spared a third-round match in high heat when scheduled-opponent Vasek Pospisil was forced to withdraw from the tournament. Likewise, Andrey Golubev retired midway through the second set in his opening-round match against the No. 8 seed.
Whether by his own racket or some good old fashioned luck, Wawrinka is putting together a career run at the Australian Open, and it will certainly take a strong performance from Berdych to derail it.
While his run to the Australian Open semifinals has been largely overshadowed by upsets and mayhem Down Under, few players have been as dominant during this fortnight as Berdych has.
In fact, the No. 7 seed has dropped only a single set in his first five matches of the tournament and didn't lose more than four games in any set prior to the quarterfinals.
That strong form was on full display as Berdych essentially dominated David Ferrer on Tuesday, losing only five games in the first two sets before slipping up and losing the third set. He rebounded to close out the match 6-4 in the fourth to earn his first Australian Open semifinal.
Like his upcoming opponent, Berdych has been solid in just about every facet of the game. His powerful ground strokes have been dominant from both sides and his serve has kept opponents off balance during the entire championship.
It’s a form he’ll need to maintain if he hopes to push past Wawrinka; but given his consistency during the championship, there’s little reason to doubt another strong effort from Berdych.
With less than 48 hours to move past the biggest victory of his career, Wawrinka will be challenged to get his focus squarely on Berdych after his five-set thriller against Djokovic.
If he can do it, the Swiss player should be the favorite to win on Thursday. Yet if he can’t quite square his sights on the matter at hand, it will be difficult to get past his familiar Czech Republic foe.
That said, Wawrinka has never reached a Slam final before and the significant potential of getting there this time around should have his attention squarely fixed on Berdych with Djokovic a distant image in his rear-view mirror.
For his part, Berdych has now reached the semifinals in all four Grand Slams and understands what it takes to reach the finals after doing so in the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. Like Wawrinka, however, the 28-year-old is still in search of a first career slam title and now has his best opportunity in the past several years to achieve that career breakthrough.
How the Czech native handles that pressure, and just how dialed in Wawrinka will be, are the key components to how the semifinal match will play out.
Assuming his head is in the game, Wawrinka enters Thursday’s semifinal against Berdych riding a wave of momentum and with all the confidence needed to realize his first-ever trip to a Grand Slam final.
The 28-year-old has been playing some of the best tennis of his life during the past year and seems to have put it all together during this trip Down Under. Just as he did against Djokovic, Wawrinka will look to use his powerful ground strokes to keep Berdych from getting comfortable throughout the match, and will count on his strong serve to escape trouble when it arrives.
Provided his nerves stay as steady as they did in the quarterfinals, Wawrinka will be able to challenge his opponent’s serve with his strong return game, keeping the pressure on to create multiple break opportunities.
Bottom line, having played against him four times in the past year, Wawrinka understands what Berdych will try to do against him, and simply needs to execute the same game plan he used in toppling Djokovic.
The key, however, is not to get caught up in the memories of that quarterfinal match with so much riding on his next test against Berdych.
Like Wawrinka, Berdych heads into the Australian semifinals full of confidence and playing his best tennis in years. He also understands that he is on the doorstep of a great opportunity and doesn't have to go through one of the game’s top three players to reach just the second Grand Slam final of his career.
Given what’s at stake, the Czech native will be hard pressed to remain patient against his familiar opponent, yet that’s exactly what he needs to do if a first-ever trip to the Australian Open finals is forthcoming.
Wawrinka expended a ton of energy in his upset victory over Djokovic, and Berdych would do well to extend as many points as possible and to utilize his solid return game to make the Swiss star earn every point on his own serve.
The majority of the matches these two have played against one another have been close, and there’s little reason to expect this semifinal to be any different. Given that, if Berdych can wear down the No. 8 seed with long rallies in the early stages of the contest, his powerful ground strokes and all-court game will become even more taxing as it wears on.
Bottom line, the longer the match goes, the more chances Berdych will have to gain control and ultimately punch his ticket to Sunday’s final.
In a tournament full of upsets and surprises, Wawrinka pulled one of the biggest on Tuesday, and it’s difficult to imagine him following up with a thud in the semifinals.
By finally defeating Djokovic, the one player that has most tormented him over the past couple years, the talented Swiss player has likely found a new level of confidence and momentum heading into his match with Berdych, who he has fared well against in the past.
Wawrinka defeated him in four sets during his run to the U.S. Open semifinals last year, and with his game peaking at the right time, is likely to repeat that performance and finally realize a long-awaited appearance in a Grand Slam final.
Given the stakes and the contestants’ familiarity with one another, it will be a tight match, but Wawrinka will pull through with a grueling 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 triumph Down Under.