Djokovic and Wawrinka meet for the eighth time in a Grand Slam match on Sunday but this time it will be for the US Open Men’s singles trophy. The Swiss No.1, Wawrinka, showed massive improvement in his form by blasting past Kei Nishikori in four sets and three hours, while Djokovic needed four sets in a bizarre win against Gael Monfils.
Not many were talking about Wawrinka leading into the final Grand Slam of the year. Firstly, the form of Andy Murray and the reliability of Djokovic really helped Wawrinka fly under the radar in this event. On top of that, Wawrinka’s own form has not been that great since his semi-final showing at the French Open, which suggested that Wawrinka was not going to be able to produce his best tennis at Flushing Meadows.
It has been quite a rollercoaster ride to the final for Wawrinka. A sublime forehand volley when facing a match point against Dan Evans, saved him from the jaws of defeat, and now he played his best match of the tournament in the semi-final match. People can question his consistency but one thing that cannot be queried is his appetite for the big occasion. He is undefeated in Grand Slam finals and is on a ten match winning streak in finals at all levels, with his last final loss occurring in Rosmalen of 2013.
One of the reasons this match is so enticing is because of the previous history between the two players. Wawrinka practically announced his name as one of the top players with one of his greatest performances at a major when he narrowly lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open fourth round of 2013. Although he lost, that match gave him the reassurance that he could compete with the very best.
It is hard to gage whether Djokovic is in grand slam winning form. The Serb has hardly played meaningful full matches this tournament, although, you can argue that he is the fresher of the two players going into the final. Djokovic is also in a good position in regard to his record in recent Grand Slam finals – he has won his last four finals – his last loss coming to Wawrinka at Roland Garros 2015.
With just the four wins over Djokovic, Wawrinka has not had overwhelming success over his nemesis, but in a Best-of-5 shootout at a Grand Slam final, we know it comes down to who can handle the occasion better on that given day.
One of the key battles is whether Wawrinka can have an electrifying serving day. A good serving display will give him the licence to play his brand of tennis and impose one of the most effective, dangerous, aggressive games on one of the best defenders that tennis has ever had to offer. Wawrinka usually blocks a lot of his returns into play. If he wants to avoid being forced into awkward, uncomfortable situations, it will require a supreme returning performance from Wawrinka.
In previous matches between the pair, Djokovic has directed most of the traffic and attention to the backhand side of Wawrinka, but he attacks with variety and exploits angles in order to get Wawrinka moving in every single rally. The 12-time Grand Slam champion is the superior mover, one of the best athletes in world sport, so will try to make Wawrinka’s challenge as intense and excruciating as possible – he can do this by making the match a physical war of attrition.
The 2016 season has taught us that Djokovic is beatable, and Wawrinka is one of the select few that has significant grand slam wins over the World No.1. Wawrinka has frightening power on his groundstrokes but Djokovic has learned a lot from the Roland Garros final loss in 2015. A lot was on the line for Djokovic in that period of his career as he felt the pressure of trying to win the Career Grand Slam. I don’t think Djokovic will wilt under the pressure on a second final meeting against Wawrinka and I expect Djokovic to rally his way to a 13th Grand Slam title.
The US Open Men’s Singles Final is scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 11 September 4pm (9pm BST).
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