Wawrinka is clay’s new king after win over Djokovic
Swiss extends world number one’s long wait for a French Open title
Stan Wawrinka in action against Novak Djokovic during the men’s final at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
There were some people who looked at the draw for the 114th edition of the French Open more than a fortnight ago and imagined there was at least a reasonable chance the Swiss national anthem would be played on the final Sunday.
And fewer people will have predicted that the 30-year-old Swiss with the gentle voice and the fiercest single-handed backhand in tennis would humble Novak Djokovic in four sets to become the oldest winner since Andres Gomez 25 years ago.
This was supposed to be the Serb’s moment, his title, his era. It was the only Slam he had not won. Everybody said he would, maybe in three sets. But Paris has a new tennis champion, who held his nerve long enough at the end of three hours and 12 minutes to beat the best player in the world 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Wawrinka, who now owns two majors, is resigned to being the Swiss not named Roger Federer, the 17-Slam champion whose kind draw and peerless pedigree persuaded good judges that he had decent prospects of reaching the final, until his compatriot stopped him brutally in three sets in the quarter-final. Missing also from the final weekend was Rafael Nadal, who has won here a record nine times.
Nadal has slipped to 10th in the world, the first time he has been in double digits since April 2005.
Djokovic, who spent more than four hours beating Andy Murray over five sets in the semi-finals, refused to use fatigue as an excuse, and he was the overwhelming favourite going in, a player at the very peak of his powers with grand ambitions of going on to sweep all four Slam titles, the first to do so since Rod Laver in 1969.
But his serve, underpowered and at times wayward, did not click, and that gave Wawrinka space and encouragement to attack. He played through some rough patches in the first hour as his lethal backhand was warming up but, once he found a rhythm, his self-belief blossomed.
Midway through the contest, he sensed weariness and doubt in his opponent. So he kept thrashing those ground strokes, 60 of them in the end, to unreachable corners and banged down nine aces for the cost of three double faults. He broke serve four times from 15 opportunities, twice in the final set as nerves frayed, and saved eight break points.
A 39-shot rally in the very first game (the longest of the tournament) set the tone. This would be tough all the way.
Holding without stress, Djokovic kept his poise while Wawrinka, moving economically, waited for his openings behind his big serve, but his backhand failed him too often and the set was gone.
In the third, Djokovic went drop-shot crazy, a sure sign of tiredness. He held from 2-5 down to stay in the set, his desperation showing when he came in behind his second serve, unable to pick the return off his shoelaces. He had hit a worrying flat spot and his backhand strayed long to hand Wawrinka a 2-1 lead.
Wawrinka must have suspected what was coming: in the space of a quarter of an hour at the start of the fourth, Djokovic held, broke and held to change the complexion of the match again.
However the Swiss came at him once more to get back on serve – then had to save three break points for 4-4, a psychological as well as a physical blow for Djokovic.
There was nothing he could do about the shot of the match, Wawrinka’s spectacular backhand down the line for the final break. If the Swiss’s strong right arm was shaking just a little as he stepped up to serve for the title, there was good reason.
He thought he had won it with a booming serve but it was overruled, extending the agony until Wawrinka found the winner with, what else, a backhand down the line.