Stanislas Wawrinka battled his way into the 2014 Australian Open final with a hard-fought 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(3), 7-6(4) win over Tomas Berdych on Thursday, Jan. 23.
The fan-favourite, who received major support from the local Rod Laver Arena crowd, will now face either an all-Swiss final against Roger Federer, or a huge challenge against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Both Wawrinka and Berdych eased into Thursday's match with dominant service games. Berdych, who served second, nearly managed to break Wawrinka as early as the third game after the Swiss star struggled to see out a 40-0 lead, but some pristine serve-and-volley execution averted the danger.
Berdych's first serve frequently romped past Wawrinka as the score progressed to 3-3, but the Czech player appeared to be suffering with nerves in other areas of his play.
He gave his opponent two break points with a mistimed forehand down the line, and with the court gaping, Berdych missed a simple volley to hand Wawrinka a crucial opening break.
With momentum in his favour, Wawrinka served toward the body of Berdych, making it extremely difficult for the 28-year-old to find room for a return. He returned long to concede the opening set.
Wawrinka won 78 percent of his first service points during the initial exchange, compared to Berdych's success rate of 71 percent, in a statistic that would nod toward the rest of the match's flow, per the competition's official website.
An immediate improvement was needed by Berdych, who threatened to lose his way at this point. He moved ahead 2-1 in the second set with an array of powerful forehands—the type of stroke that leaves his rival with a short, sharp bounce to deal with.
However, Berdych's next service game saw both competitors up the ante. Wawrinka's precise backhand was followed by a drop shot and volley from Berdych, the score remaining on serve at 3-2 in his favour.
Power remained with whoever was serving, highlighted by Wawrinka's three aces to make the score 5-5 in the second.
A tiebreaker was always on the horizon, and in these situations, it is preferable to serve first. Berdych took advantage of this luxury by firing two deliveries that Wawrinka failed to return, while a string of effortless forehands continued to ask questions until Berdych wrapped up the second set.
Both players exchanged backhand winners to help seal their opening service games of the third set. Once again, neither managed to conjure up enough momentum to break serve, as prolonged rallies continued to be largely non-existent during this extremely tight affair.
Berdych came under pressure to land another tiebreaker, but he held his nerve to the delight of the gripped onlookers. Wawrinka even applauded one winner that sent him scampering across court, before he watched his chances of a late break disappear thanks to another monstrous Berdych ace.
Unfortunately for the Czech player, his concentration appeared to dip during the breaker. An inexplicable double fault provided Wawrinka with an advantage, something he cemented with a huge serve of his own.
Disappointingly for Berdych, another double fault saw Wawrinka claim the third set. The Czech's three double faults proved costly, but his pivotal mistakes didn't end there.
Wawrinka failed to capitalise on his second break opportunity of the match when Berdych served an ace during the opening game of the fourth set. Six deuces and 16 minutes of action followed before another ace and a Wawrinka miscue gave Berdych the lead.
An intermittent supply of eye-catching winners coincided with each player's serve, but neither of them looked to lose his control until Berdych missed opportunities with the score at 5-4 in his favour.
He was visibly irritated after a skidding shot forced him into an error, and with his concentration diminished for the moment, Wawrinka made it 5-5.
Berdych hit a stretching backhand down the line to make it 30-30 in the next game, but Wawrinka followed with a gutsy forehand and fine second serve en route to a third tiebreak.
Wawrinka raced into a 3-0 lead after winning both of his service points, in addition to Berdych hitting one long. The mistake was followed by another vital double fault from Berdych—his seventh of the match—who just managed to stay in the contest at 4-2 after Wawrinka missed the baseline.
Berdych eventually missed another simple return to bring up match point for Wawrinka. The Swiss served for glory, and despite an initial double fault, confirmed his victory after Berdych fired out once more.
An incredible effort from both players, but Wawrinka's forehand efficiency and relentless service game slowly chipped away at the will of his opponent.
He hit 57 winners, 18 aces and 49 unforced errors on his way, while Berdych struck 60 winners, 21 aces and 49 unforced errors.
Wawrinka spoke of his happiness during his post-match interview:
Whether Wawrinka is set to face Federer or Nadal in the final remains to be seen, but his increased sense of aggressiveness is sure to give either player problems.
Federer's tournament has been defined by his variation of shots and creativity, a fresh approach after his poor showing throughout 2013, but his improvements will be fully tested if he comes up against Wawrinka in current form.
Nadal is better equipped to deal with the finalist's line-kissing strokes and will aim to use his athletic ability to his advantage if the pair meet.
Reaching the final is undoubtedly a huge achievement for Wawrinka, who after working so hard across the tournament, receives the special day he deserves.