2016 U.S. Open Final: Serbia v Switzerland II

When Stan Wawrinka is in that form we’ve come to expect once or twice a year over the last 3-4 years, look out. That’s the advice we should give players in his way. For those of us who get to watch, the advice is don’t miss any of it.

I watched part of the Evans match (when I thought wow he’s deep behind that BL) where he was in all kinds of trouble and this kid Evans (Kyrgios’ doubles partner) was showing tons of great ball striking ability (he’s a former squash player). Stan survived match point and made it the the next round.

The Del Potro match pit probably the two biggest ball strikers head to head. This was fantastic for about three sets when Stan finally wrested control of the match from a player with very little five-set experience of recent months.

Stan took care of Nishikori in a very tight 2-3 sets, again establishing his advantage late as he continued to press and pound, and the player who upset the world #2 faded into the NYC night. Kei is a wonderful player, but Stan, in this form, is way too much over five sets. This rare form that Stan finds is really unforgiving and unmanageable.

Last year Stan had a run to the USO SF, but Roger’s form was too good. Stan is a solid player at majors, has been for a few years now. Three times it’s happened where this solid major performance turns-out to be what we call Stanimstanal (Roger apparently coined the term), and, indeed, it’s undefeated at the majors.

How much of this is psychological? Stan pointing to his head became the resonating image in this year’s tournament. This is perhaps a discussion for another day where we try to answer that question about how a player finds “the zone”, etc. When Stan finds it, everyone benefits but the group of fans that drink, smoke and snort his opponents’ refuse. Too bad everyone can’t appreciate this type of player/form. He’s a force of nature displaying a brand of tennis that even the game’s greats celebrate with very very high praise.

I watched the match on ESPN with the McEnroe brothers and Brad Gilbert calling the shots and later on a replay with Courier and Carillo doing the call. John says the OHBH is the greatest shot in tennis and Courier couldn’t stop saying “genius” as Stan tracked a ball into the doubles alley, racket already cocked before he smashed the ball DTL for a convincing winner. The Stanimal is a special player, that rare version of Wawrinka we get about once a year, since 2013 or so.

Djokovic really was unable to deal with Stan in this form. He looked pretty good early, that first set being seemingly pivotal in the match’s destiny. Had Djokovic won that 6-2 or so, he might have been able to play a lot more confidently in the 2nd, at least. But Stan turned that first set from a 23 minute Djokovic clinic into a 58 minute fist fight in an alley. That was critical, I think. Stan, despite saying after that he was in pain throughout much of the match, feeling all of matches he’d played throughout the draw, looked like he could go five long sets. Extending that first set, for me, sent the message that Novak had better put his work-boots on and had better have packed a healthy snack.

The match was a clinic after that first set, very much like the 2015 FO final. We know this. Stan’s heavy GS were just incredible to watch. And to Novak’s credit, he played some great crafty tennis, as well. This was the final we wanted. Even if Novak had pushed to a fifth and won, this is what we wanted to see. Novak’s ability to extend points continues to bewilder us all. This is what makes Stanimal so remarkable, in this time and place: he can hit through Djokovic. We’ve seen it now twice in a major final. It’s not that Djokovic plays poorly. Stan is just too good and too good means too big, too strong, and too determined to win.

A couple of interesting points from the match:

Not really from the match, but in general, Magnus Norman is a genius and I need to write more about him.

Onto the match.

I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but the longer the rallies went, the more successful was Stan. This is usually Novak’s advantage, as a guy who will wear-out his opponent, pushing them all over the court or at least from side to side. But Stan was brilliant in those longer rallies, punishing the Serb’s fleet-of-foot BL style. His big game accompanies a very capable defense, ability to cut the ball back, hit defensive lobs, etc. One critical difference between the first set and the adjustment he made toward the final three was being more patient before hitting the kill switch; taking a little off the ball to bring down the error count, keep the point alive, find his opportunity and pull trigger. Of course, taking a little off the ball still meant Novak was often chasing and defending himself.

How about the inability of Novak to break Stan’s serve. This should be an easy stat to find, but I don’t have it. What I do have is the awareness that Novak’s failure rate is in the same ballpark as Roger’s in last year’s final. Roger was something like 3 for 17 in BP against the Serb. Stan saved a ton of BP. This was a huge difference in the match. This is something that Novak feeds on, helping to devour his opponent’s will to fight.

We had a discussion on this blog a while back  where someone asked something along the lines of how will anyone beat Novak. Novak’s 2015 and early 2016 have been, as we know, historically dominant. Hence, the question.

I responded that I believe his brilliant play in those pivotal games and points would come back to earth. Much of his dominance is simply being better when it matters. Sure, this answer is pretty obvious, but I think it’s huge. Once he loses that clutch in those huge points, he’ll become a lot more vulnerable. This clutch gene really helps define him, in my humble opinion. He’s embarrassed Roger and Rafa with it, being simply better at those critical stages of a match.

He didn’t have it yesterday. Granted, he seemed to go away physically in the final set or so, but he was worn-out from failing to break Stan so many times, or win those big rallies, big points. Stan out-played Novak in all aspects of the game. No question. Even the first set I said was a Stan win because he made that a match. Roger or Andy (anyone) loses that first set in 25-30 minutes. Stan began making adjustments and stayed with his plan: hit this guy in the mouth.

How about that irony I talked about. Novak was ridiculed for his draw. I simply said it was bizarre, but it’s not his fault. You can not pin the streak of “injuries” on Novak. I did, however, say that the tennis gods hopefully consider all of this evidence when determining the winner. Most people think, I think, that Stan deserved and EARNED the championship with his resilient form and tremendous class and character (he has, I think, some of the highest character because he calls-out gamesmanship and other squirrelly antics from opposing players. He did it a bit with Nishikori, yesterday with Novak’s toe boo-boo, against Rafa at the 2014 AO, etc.). Stan is the Man.

But the irony is that Novak succumbed partly to injury (you know I’m not taking anything away from Stan, who definitively stuffed Novak in a locker, took his lunch money and gave it to charity). Novak’s 2016 USO was ironically a harvest of injury.

Much more will be written, for sure. Here’s one teaser: As I turn to finish finally my HRFRT piece with the exploration of Novak, I have another article that’s emerged that I need to think more about, that fits into this narrative. This is called, something along the lines of, How Roger Federer Saved Tennis. Do you know who stars in this piece? I’ll let you guess. 😀

7 comments

  1. A nice write up Matt, and indeed Novak succumbed to the injuries his opponents were having, he was in the end dumbfounded by Stan’s iron will and intensity. I think he felt like he was crossing the street nice and slowly, not much opposition, but then a Stanimal bus comes out of nowhere, and it ain’t slowing down.

    1. I thought it hard to imagine Stan running-over Novak again like that. The FO and this final were eerily similar. Here’s your souvenir first set, now get ready for a beat-down. Great great stuff. Good call, Caligula.

      1. Thanks Matt, I was really comfortable when I made that prediction, seeing Stan’s form after watching the semifinal against Nishikori (where I thought Stan was going to lose), but the way he turned things around made me realize, he was coming back and displayed that mental and physical edge I remembered back in FO2015. As you write, when Stanimal shows up, Djokovic can’t do anything. Would have loved to see Stanimal vs Prime Fedal I would have paid a fortune to see those matches..

        Looking forward to the indoor season, I think Djokovic will be targeted by Murray for the #1 spot since there isn’t much separating those two, and master Lendl is probably prepping Murray for some extra action. Also, can Stan become a real threat indoors? Maybe even a WTF contender? Exciting times ahead.

  2. I’ll second that. Great call Caligula (your insights into tennis beguiles your tyrannical reign as Roman Emperor) and top write up Matt. Yup, like you said it’s amazing how he can back himself and hit through the Serb’s defensive wall – a ferocious attacking arsenal.

    “Stan become a real threat indoors? Maybe even a WTF contender?”
    Not sure Caligula. The faster indoor courts allow less time for Stan to prepare those huge back swings but indeed he is certainly capable…Looking ahead I wonder if he can win Wimbledon? Maybe improving his grass court movements combined with that attacking style could do it..

    1. Hi RJ, yeah I figured if Stan can win a USO title, he might as well be adapting to faster surfaces indoors. On grass I think Stan should feel right at home, last year Gasquet played the match of his life to defeat a hungry Wawrinka in that Wimbledon quarter final, only to be savagely executed by Novak later on. Had Wawrinka prevailed there, who knows, maybe he would have had that Wimbledon title under his belt.

      1. I was looking through Stan’s results a bit last night and agree that if Stan gets through that Gasquet match (11-9 in the 5th and he was up 2 sets to 1), he could have been dangerous. WB has been his toughest major but there’s really no reason that should be the case. It’s not as fast as it used to be. I see no reason he can’t get himself into a SF or F there and then, who knows.

        Going to write a bit of a legacy piece hopefully tonight on the two finalists. Stan’s is a very interesting story. Late bloomer is sorta accurate, but I want to look at few storylines.

        With Djokovic, and I said this earlier (I think you believe this too, Caligula), his peak was actually more like 2011. You can’t go earlier than that probably because of his breakout in 2011. But this version today is just not the same youthful athlete. Go watch some of those Novak/Fed or Novak/Rafa matches back then.

        In other words, I think it’s going to be more difficult than people think for Djokovic to keep winning a bunch of majors. The USO was a huge opportunity. He has to win two more to tie Rafa and Pete. As thin a field as it is, the body starts to wear-out. And the nerves do too.

        I mentioned in my post that he failed in those big moments in the final with Stan. That, I said, is going to be one of the first things to go and then he’s vulnerable. Well, he admitted that in an article. He said he got nervous, kinda broke down mentally. Yikes.

  3. Good points Matt, and also the mental breakdown of the Serb, we have witnessed it far too many times before, even in his physical prime around the 2008-2012 timeline when Fedal played confidently and were near their physical peak, they were able to wear him out mentally, Federer by sheer confidence in his skills and Nadal by being the most physical monstrosity the sport had yet seen. Suffice to say Novak has been able to turn that around completely in the last 2 years, he doesn’t fear those two anymore.

    This is why, and I know you are fully aware too, Stan is so important in this equation. He doesn’t fear Novak he is a late bloomer as you write, but as long as his body can take it, he will not bow to the Serb like the Scot has been doing in the past couple of years. It’s really refreshing seeing someone not give up when faced against a well-conditioned Djoker. Fedal are waaay too washed up to count as worthy adversaries anymore for Novak these days despite what some delusional fanboys spout on the internet (we all know who they are ;)).

    Yet here comes the Stanimal and he is going to be a threat any time he meets the Serb on any surface, and that is why I think our passion for the sport has been rejuvenated thanks to the Stanimal, praise the tennis gods! Stan the Man can inject some well needed competition in the men’s game.

What say you?