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Djokovic Wins Grueling Five Setter over Wawrinka

It might pale in comparison to last year's Australian Open final, but Novak Djokovic's five-set victory over Stan Wawrinka was one of the high points of this year's tournament.

By Chris Oddo

Djokovic fourth round Australian Open 2013 (January 20, 2013) -- If you ever need advice on how to win a five-set marathon at the Australian Open, give Novak Djokovic a call.

Already on record for winning the longest Grand Slam final and longest Australian Open match in history when he defeated Rafael Nadal in a five hour and fifty-three minute epic last year, Djokovic was up to his usual antics again last night against Stan Wawrinka, finally defeating the Swiss in a match that lasted five hours and two minutes, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10.

“My body feels great,” said Djokovic on court afterwards. “It’s only five hours.”

Wawrinka started strong, taking the first set 6-1, then leading 5-2 in the second, but Djokovic rallied to take control of the match by winning sets two and three.

“He was the aggressive player on the court, I was just trying to hang in there, trying to fight, and trying to give the last drop of energy,” said Djokovic of the classic battle, which ended at close to 2 A.M. Melbourne time.

In the fourth set, neither player could manage a break, and it was Wawrinka who took it in a tiebreaker to force a fifth set.

The 15th-seeded Swiss, who now owns a 2-12 record against the World No. 1, including 11 losses in a row, would make his case for the upset in the early moments of the decider. He broke Djokovic in the first game of the fifth set, then held to take a 2-0 lead.

But Djokovic is not one to go quietly into the night. Now 18-6 in five-set matches over the course of his career, the Serb always seems to save a little magic for those hair-raising desperation moments that characterize matches such as these.

Djokovic leveled the set, and when Wawrinka, who was seeking treatment for his tired legs on nearly every changeover, earned four break points at four-all, Djokovic brazenly brushed them all aside.

From that point on, with each man as concerned about conserving energy as they were about contesting rallies, the players managed a series of successive holds that finally led to Wawrinka’s undoing in the 22nd game of the set.

After Wawrinka boldly knocked back two match points in the game, Djokovic's backhand on the third match point sailed past an onrushing Wawrinka, and landed ever so gently inside the sideline. It was a fitting end to a sublime encounter; one last expressive brushstroke to color what certainly has to be looked upon as the masterpiece of the tournament.

It was a bittersweet finish for Wawrinka, but many are of the opinion that even in defeat he may have played the best big match of his career. As for Djokovic, his uncanny ability to wiggle his way out of matches like this has to rank up there with some of the greats of all time. The more tense things seem to get, the more improbably good his performace seems to be. Shirt off, fists clenched, the Serb celebrated that fact, and the occasion--his 18th consecutive Australian Open win--with his typical scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs gusto.

“It brings back the memories from 12 months ago, definitely, with Rafa,” Djokovic later would say.

It was a different match to be sure, but it was an eerily similar Djokovic once again, holding his nerve and navigating the tightrope to reach his 15th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, where he will move on to face Tomas Berdych.

Berdych was close to perfect for much of his straight set win over Kevin Anderson of South Africa, but nevertheless the gritty South African still mustered enough of an effort to force a third-tiebreaker against Berdych.

After failing to convert a set point at 4-5, Anderson played a tough tiebreaker that saw him earn four more set points. But Berdych, who is through to his third Australian Open quarterfinal in a row, steadied his nerve each time.

The Czech has yet to drop a set in four matches, and he’ll likely gain confidence from that fact as he prepares to face an overworked Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

Also reaching the quarterfinals with a straight set victory was World No. 4 David Ferrer, who defeated Kei Nishikori in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The victory marks the fifth consecutive trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal for Ferrer.

Ferrer converted on seven of eleven break point opportunities to book his quarterfinal spot in two hours and ten minutes.

Unwilling to talk about his chances of winning a maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne, Ferrer instead has turned his focus to his next opponent, fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro.

“I am not thinking about if I have the chance to win a Grand Slam; I am only focused with every match I will play,” said Ferrer.

He’s always been focused on Almagro. Ferrer holds a career 12-0 edge against Almagro, but the tenth seed will be well rested when he faces his nemesis. Almagro advanced when Janko Tipsarevic retired in the second set with a foot injury with the Spaniard leading 6-2, 5-1.

(Photo Credit: AP)


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