Wawrinka dashes Djokovic’s French Open dream
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Stan Wawrinka won the French Open by beating No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the final Sunday, thwarting Djokovic’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam.
The eighth-seeded Wawrinka, so long in the shadow of his Swiss Davis Cup teammate and pal, Roger Federer, collected his second major title after last year’s Australian Open.
In doing so, Wawrinka put a stop to Djokovic’s 28-match winning streak and left the 28-year-old Serb ruing another close call at Roland Garros. This was the third time in the last four years that Djokovic lost in the final at the clay-court tournament, the only major title he has never won.
This one ended, fittingly, with a down-the-line backhand winner from the 30-year-old Wawrinka. That’s his best stroke and considered among the best in the game. He tossed his racket overhead, then met Djokovic at the net for a hug.
“One day, you will win Roland Garros,” Wawrinka told Djokovic during the post-match ceremony. “You deserve it.”
Wawrinka, who earned 1.8 million euros (about $2 million), was making his 11th French Open appearance, equaling Federer and Andre Agassi for most attempts before winning it.
This was also Djokovic’s 11th French Open, and he has so far been unable to clutch the trophy he so dearly desires. He has won eight Grand Slam titles, with five at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the US Open.
He’s made quite clear how much it would mean to him to become the eighth man in tennis history with a full complement of at least one title from each major.
“I can tell you,” Djokovic told the crowd, “that I will keep trying to win this trophy.”
Djokovic came up short against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 and 2014 finals, but he cleared that hurdle this year with a straight-set victory over the nine-time champion in the quarterfinals. Djokovic followed that by eliminating No. 3 Andy Murray in a five-set semifinal contested over two days that concluded about 25 hours before Sunday’s start.
Normally, it’s the sliding, stretching, body-contorting brand of defense Djokovic delights in that wears down opponents, but he looked spent by the end Sunday.
When he clinched the first set, Djokovic swiveled to look toward his box, where his coaches - Marian Vajda, who’s worked with him for nearly a decade, and Boris Becker, brought aboard last year expressly to help win majors - jumped out of their seats.
Djokovic stood tall and bellowed. The trophy, propped on the wooden edge of the president’s box, stood put a few feet away, reflecting the sun’s rays. And now that trophy was but two sets away.
So close, yet so far
Wawrinka was unable to take advantage of his first five break points Sunday. But with the help of a backhand winner that garnered a thumb’s up from Djokovic, then a forehand winner, Wawrinka earned No. 6, which also happened to be a set point, and this one did not go to waste. On a 23-stroke point, Djokovic was the one who faltered, slapping a backhand long.
Tied at a set apiece, Djokovic reared back and spiked his racket off the court, caught it, and, unsatisfied, slammed it down a second time, mangling the thing. That drew derisive whistles from spectators and a warning from the chair umpire.
Wawrinka then took the third set, breaking for a 4-2 edge during a 10-point run and motioning to the crowd to cheer louder for him.
By now, Wawrinka was the aggressor on most points, his shots finding their appointed marks near lines, and he was delivering twice as many winners as Djokovic.
And then it was Djokovic’s turn to shift gears, making zero unforced errors on the way to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set. Wawrinka, though, reeled off six of the last seven games. He broke for 3-2 when Djokovic netted a forehand on a 31-stroke exchange.
Wawrinka got another break, the last he’d need, for a 5-4 edge, with - yes, of course - a down-the-line backhand winner, then served out the victory.
He had lost 17 of his past 20 matches against Djokovic but would not relent on this sunlit afternoon. Soon it was Wawrinka, not Djokovic, hoisting the winner’s trophy overhead.
When Djokovic received his runner’s-up plate, the spectators gave him a long ovation. Djokovic shook his head and his eyes welled with tears.