World No. 1 Novak Djokovic covers the court with the unerring vigilance of a surveillance camera.
Stan Wawrinka owns the unique skill set to create championship photo finishes against the top-seeded Serbian.
When Wawrinka and defending champion Djokovic face off in tomorrow’s US Open final it will pit the Swiss’ first-strike prowess against Djokovic’s debilitating consistency and acrobatic ability to extend points.
Final conflict evokes killer instinct in Wawrinka, who has won 10 consecutive championship matches.
Playing for his 13th career Grand Slam title, Djokovic knows all about Flushing Meadows finales: He’s contesting his sixth US Open final in the last seven years.
These two have a history and it pops with some monumental matches. Djokovic has won 19 of their 23 meetings, including 13 of their 15 hard-court clashes, however he’s also felt the sting of Wawrinka’s heavy drives.
“He’s very powerful, powerful player,” Djokovic said of Wawrinka. “Big serve. Probably the best, most effective one-handed backhand in the world now. You know, he can play it all. You know, he has that variety in his game. He can be very dangerous for everybody.”
The sturdy Swiss has hurt Djokovic whipping his one-handed backhand down the line and serving with command. Wawrinka will take the court for tomorrow’s US Open final knowing he must bring his best to beat the best.
“The secret is simple: I have to play my best tennis, my best game,” Wawrinka said. “He’s the No. 1 player, amazing fighter, amazing player, but I have enough confidence in myself that when I play my best level I can beat him.
“Hopefully I can bring that Sunday. But it’s the biggest challenge. When you play Novak, the No. 1 player in the final of Grand Slam, it’s the biggest challenge you can have.”
Djokovic doesn’t need a scouting report to know the danger Wawrinka poses. He’s experienced it personally in major matches.
The man with the wondrous one-handed backhand has beaten Djokovic en route to both of his Grand Slam championships.
Wawrinka stopped the Serbian in a dizzying 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7, duel in the 2014 Australian Open quarterfinals before beating Rafael Nadal in the final for his first Grand Slam crown.
Competing with calm defiance and destructive power, Wawrinka rode a wave of shotmaking brilliance stunning No. 1 in the 2015 Roland Garros final, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to deny Djokovic the career Grand Slam.
“I lost to him in finals of French Open and I lost to him in quarterfinals of Australia when he won, as well,” Djokovic said. “So both of these Grand Slam trophies that he has he won against me on the way. So I know right now, having two Grand Slam titles and Olympic medal and Davis Cup under his belt, he believes in himself more. He doesn’t get, I think, too stressed by the bigger occasion. He actually likes playing in big matches.”
Wawrinka showed shot-making audacity tattooing 60 winners against Djokovic in the French Open final, while wearing plaid shorts that look like they’d been fashioned from a table cloth swiped from a nearby cafe.
The third-ranked Swiss, who opened the season winning hard-court titles in Chennai and Dubai, knows he must play with bold baseline aggression again.
Though the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 80s with considerably less humidity than recent days, physicality could come into play. Wawrinka is a physical beast who owns a 24-19 career record in five-set matches and believes he can pummel opponents into suffering in the swelter.
“My game plan is to be aggressive. I knew I could fight for three, four, five hours,” Wawrinka said after dispatching 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori. “I want to make them suffer and that’s what I did against Del Potro and today as well.”
Djokovic is one of the fittest players in the sport, who has posted an exceptional 27-8 career record in five setters. He should be fresher, too, given he was the first men’s player in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final following three retirements and/or walkovers.
Despite the fact Djokovic arrived in New York pained by a left wrist injury and has taken treatment for his arm, elbow and both shoulders throughout this tournament, he insists he’s healthy and fit ahead of the final.
“Thankfully it’s behind me, so I don’t have any concerns,” Djokovic said. “I have lots of excitement for the finals.”
Given the fact Djokovic typically takes the ball earlier and Wawrinka is most comfortable several feet behind the baseline giving himself time to unload his whipping windmill swings, can the Swiss hurt Djokovic with the down-the-line drive again? And how accurately can Djokovic counter on the run against the heaviest hitter he’s faced in this tournament?
Those questions will be answered in the final.
“I haven’t played Stan in some time now,” Djokovic said. “He’s a big match player. He loves to play in the big stage against big players, because that’s when he, I think, elevates his level of performance in his game. Just gets much better.”