Champion is confident he has the game to see off Djokovic
WHEN Stan Wawrinka beat Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open last year, it was the best match of the tournament. When they meet again in tomorrow’s semi-finals, the bad news for world No 1 Djokovic is that the Swiss says he is playing even better.
Wawrinka’s five-set win in last year’s quarter-finals convinced him he could go on to win a first grand slam title, something he achieved a few days later by finishing off an ailing Rafael Nadal in the final.
Djokovic, the four-time champion in Melbourne, has looked imperious to date, including in his 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Canada’s Milos Raonic yesterday but Wawrinka stepped up another gear in beating Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.
Seemingly destined to live in the shadow of Roger Federer until the great man retires, Wawrinka built on his Australian Open triumph by winning his first Masters 1000 event, in Monte Carlo, and then teaming with Federer to win the Davis Cup in November.
For years, it seemed that for all his talent, Wawrinka did not truly believe he deserved to be in this kind of company but watching him in Melbourne again this year, everything has changed.
“I think I am playing better,” he said yesterday. “I think we all improve every year [but] I’m more aggressive. I’m more confident with my game when I come to the net.
“It’s a grand slam. You play every two days. Today was a great level, was a great match. Now I’m going to enjoy a little bit and get ready for the semi-final.”
Djokovic, who coped well with Raonic’s giant serve to progress, said Wawrinka might be feeling more pressure trying to defend his title. Wawrinka disagreed.
“I know that now I have a grand slam at home,” he said. “I won the Davis Cup also. I have the confidence from that. I know I can make it. I trust my game. I trust myself on the court even when we start to play semi-final or final in a grand slam.”
“But for sure it will be funny to play him again. We had some crazy matches in the grand slams in the past. When you play Novak, especially in a semifinal in a grand slam, you have to play your best game. So far I’m playing great.”
With the exception of the first set, when he looked a little frustrated as huge serves rained down, Djokovic looked calm against Raonic, conserving energy for the battle to come.
Chasing an eighth grand slam title, the Serb it not short on motivation but said he might just take a look back at last year’s clash, just in case.
FAMILIAR FEELING: Stan Wawrinka is back in the final four at Olympic Park in Melbourne.