By Chris Oddo / Thursday, September 5, 2013
Just like defending U.S. Open Champion Andy Murray, who waited patiently and worked diligently for his time to come, Stan Wawrinka has waited, too.
Stan Wawrinka stunned U.S. Open defending champion Andy Murray in straight sets on Thursday in New York.
Photo Source: AP
After a year that began with hard-luck losses and the bitter taste of almost, Wawrinka has soldiered through, learning from - rather than being broken by - what would have demoralized lesser players. Wawrinka came oh-so-close to Novak Djokovic at the year's first Grand Slam in Australia, finally bowing out 12-10 in the fifth after an insta-classic, with many new fans in tow.
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Shortly thereafter Wawrinka lost a heartbreaking seven-hour-long doubles match to the Czechs in Davis Cup, and lay spent on the court, heartbroken, when it was over.
Was it Wawrinka's destiny to be forever falling painfully short? If it was, it is no longer. Thursday in New York, Wawrinka put forth a virtuoso performance on Arthur Ashe Stadium, taking out defending U.S. Open champion Andy Murray in three convincing sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
There is a cliché in tennis that big points win matches, and today that cliché certainly held water. This match, in fact, may have been won in one single point. Wawrinka and Murray played a compelling battle of tug-of-war in the first set, with Murray serving to stay alive in the first set, and Wawrinka hell-bent on notching the late break to go ahead. They traded blows, and misfires, until finally, on his sixth set point Wawrinka secured the break when Murray sailed a forehand long.
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The point seemed to break Murray a bit, too. Wawrinka pumped his fist and bounced to his chair, while a frazzled Murray smashed his racquet and screamed to the high heavens. The rest, as they say, was history.
But it didn't have to be, and it wasn't supposed to be, and that is what makes Wawrinka's stunning victory over Murray so impressive. For the first time in 35 Grand Slams, Wawrinka has gone further than his Swiss compatriot Roger Federer, and now that he's through to the semifinals, there is an air of mystery encircling the 28-year-old.
Could this be the first act of a three-act, weekend-long march to an unlikely U.S. Open title? “I don't know,” Murray told press when asked if he felt Wawrinka could go all the way in New York. “I know how hard they are to win. I have reached quite a few semis and finals before I did it. I don't know the answer to that. You'll find out in the next few days I guess.”
Based on Wawrinka's authoritative ball-striking and uncanny nuance displayed in routing one of the world's best hard court players on Thursday, it's not an entirely ridiculous question. A strong, strapping player, Wawrinka hits with horse power that can keep the best defenders on their heels, but he also has a deft—call it Swiss?—touch and good feel for the court that enables him to engage the tennis-as-chess metaphor more effectively than most powerful players do. When he's in full flight as he was today, the tennis is awe inspiring, in that high-risk, high-reward sort of way.
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Wawrinka broke once in the second set and twice in the third to create some distance between himself and Murray, and for a player who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal before and who was playing on tennis's largest stadium, he held his nerves remarkably well.
Case in point: Against one of the game's greatest returners of serve, Wawrinka did not face a single break point on the afternoon. “He served and volleyed a few times at the beginning of the match on some quite big points,” Murray said. “On 30-all points and maybe a couple of deuce points, he did it. Apart from that, he just hit the ball extremely well today. And when he had the wind with him, he served very well and got the first strike in on the rally. I had to do a lot of defending from the far side of the court.”
That aggressive mindset paid big dividends for Wawrinka. He wasn't shy about dictating, and he scorched 45 winners to only 15 for Murray on the day. “I was trying just to be focused on my game, playing good, playing solid, aggressive,” Wawrinka said. “To go for taking the match and not letting him come back.”
For Wawrinka, that boldness and conviction have placed him where he has never gone before. Only one player in Open Era history has waited longer than the 35 Grand Slams that it took Wawrinka to break through.
Winning a title at an event where Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic seem dead-set on playing the final might be a big ask, but Wawrinka proved today that while it may not be likely, it certainly is possible.