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Djokovic outlasts Wawrinka in epic

ESPN staff
January 20, 2013 « Sharapova powers past Flipkens | Chartbeat test »
Novak Djokovic was stretched to the limit but got the job done © AP
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Novak Djokovic demonstrated exactly why he is the premier player on the planet by battling back from the brink to beat Stanislas Wawrinka and reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

The world No. 1 was given a lesson for the best part of two sets, in a similar manner to how Rafael Nadal was against Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon. Nadal failed to find a way to get the job done, and has not been seen on a court since but - from a set and 4-1 down - Djokovic weathered the storm to move ahead. Wawrinka forced a fifth set, but the defending champion steeled himself once again to claim a 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(4) 12-10 win.

Wawrinka laid down a marker in the opening game. He sent a ripping backhand flashing past Djokovic, but three aces from the world No. 1 helped him hold serve.

The barrage from Wawrinka continued, flat missiles on the forehand and precision topspin at pace on the backhand wing, and he broke through in the third game.

Wawrinka won 82% of points behind his own serve in the first set and that cushion allowed him to attack Djokovic. A quite stunning crosscourt backhand that appeared to defy the laws of physics secured him a second break and a 4-1 lead.

A confident Wawrinka showed his full repertoire by ghosting in for a volley and then thrilled the crowd with a superb winner that went round the net post.

Djokovic looked shell-shocked and a truly awful forehand that flew five yards over the baseline summed up the first set. Wawrinka's effort in the first set was summed up on the final point, as a whipped forehand caught the outside of the line.

It appeared normal service would be resumed as Djokovic regrouped to break at the start of the second. Wawrinka has proved a shade brittle in the past, but he steeled himself to carve out three break points in the following game. He took the second when Djokovic surprisingly netted a backhand.

Djokovic lost his footing on a number of occasions and changed his footwear mid-way through the second set. The change of trainers did not aid him, as winners continued to fly off the Wawrinka racket and he crafted a second break of the second set - a blistering backhand down the line leaving Djokovic a bewildered spectator.

The second break prompted a muttering of disbelief from Djokovic for the first time in the match and the frustration continued as Wawrinka backed up the break with a strong hold - again hitting lines off both wings.

Djokovic held to love, his first truly convincing game of the match, and it asked Wawrinka to serve out for the set. It was a question Wawrinka could not answer, as for the first time in the contest he tightened up. A weak forehand flew into the net to open the door and he invited Djokovic through when a backhand clipped the top of the net and went wide.

Another confident hold from Djokovic got him back on level terms at 5-5 and the Wawrinka error count began to climb. Having painted the lines for the best part of two sets, the balls started to miss their target. He staved off two break points, but a third was offered up when a forehand flew over the baseline and the same forehand sent the ball into the net.

Having spent the best part of 90 minutes looking at his camp in distress, Djokovic turned with a clenched fist. And one service hold later, he was on level terms.

The fist pumped turned to a jig of delight as he made it six games on the spin with a break. The momentum shift was remarkable. A stunning backhand pass set up the break point and some amazing defence, three times he retrieved a smash, forced the error and led to a roar and a dance.

Out of nowhere, Djokovic gifted a break back but it was a rare blip in the third set as he served with authority and secured a break to lead 5-4 and duly held again to get ahead for the first time in the match.

The fourth set was finely balanced as both showed strength behind their own serve. Wawrinka had the trainer out at the change of ends on two occasions to work on his legs, but he showed no signs of fatigue in the breaker. He ripped a brilliant backhand up the line for a winner and took a double minibreak when Djokovic sent a backhand over the baseline.

Djokovic saved two set points but Wawrinka did not blink on his own serve and a quite brilliant point saw him force a decider. Djokovic showed all his famed defensive skills to keep the ball in play, but Wawrinka kept hitting the lines and a backhand down the line forced a fifth set.

The momentum from taking the fourth set catapulted Wawrinka towards a break at the start of the fifth. Djokovic looked a shade jaded during that first game, with some sloppy foot movement. That, though, has been seen in the past when he has gone on to win and he broke back immediately.

Love service holds were traded but Wawrinka began to cramp at 2-3 in the fifth. He was frantically stretching his leg out but managed to hold his serve. However, movement was becoming a bit of an issue for the Swiss and a love hold from Djokovic allowed him to slump in his chair.

Wawrinka came out in the eighth game and held despite coughing up his first double fault of the match, just as the clock had ticked past the four-hour mark.

Novak Djokovic advances to the quarter-finals

Just as he seemed on his last legs, Wawrinka crafted break points. Djokovic fended off the first with a nerveless dropshot, the second and third when his opponent fired shots into the net and a fourth when a ball landed an inch over the baseline.

The Swiss was made to rue the missed chances as Djokovic remained strong on serve - five times at sudden death he held to love - and in the 22nd game he stepped things up to break the resistance of Wawrinka and book his place in the quarter-finals.

Twice Wawrinka fended off match points, the second with a sublime backhand down the line, but a third came Djokovic's way when the backhand let Wawrinka down and he secured victory with a flicked backhand pass that sent Wawrinka to his knees and the crowd to their feet.

A man who will have watched the epic with a wry smile on his face would be Tomas Berdych who will face Djokovic in the last-eight after proving too good for Kevin Anderson in straight sets.

Janko Tipsarevic came through some major battles to reach the fourth round, but a clash with Nicolas Almagro proved a bridge too far as the Serbian was forced to retire when a set and 5-1 down.

Tipsarevic was bothered by an ankle problem which required extensive treatment and he was a spent force when offering his hand towards the end of the second set.

Almagro's reward is a quarter-final with fellow Spaniard David Ferrer who continued his serene progress with a mauling of Kei Nishikori. The No. 4 seed looks a live threat this year and he simply swarmed all over Nishikori in a 6-2 6-1 6-4 success.

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