September 2, 2019
Defending champion Novak Djokovic was undone by the power of Stan Wawrinka and a nagging shoulder injury.
Illogically, the world had pretty much written off the chances of Wawrinka – a player who loves the big-time.
The 34-year-old is like a coiled spring with frightening energy yet to be unleashed. Wawrinka’s quarter-final against Daniil Medvedev should be a fizzer of a contest.
There will be no 17th Grand Slam for Djokovic just yet. He aims to be fitter for the Asian swing and year-end finals. But maybe we won’t see the best of the Serb again until the Australian Open.
Wawrinka, the Swiss underdog, has never feared Novak. He has beaten Djokovic in Grand Slam finals before, including their last meeting at the US Open in 2016.
But even Wawrinka seemed surprised by the power he generated with his serve and the sheer force of his forehands and one-handed backhands.
The 23rd seed broke midway through the first set and came back from 1-4 down to take the second. Wawrinka led in the third and would surely have closed out anyway.
But at 6-4, 7-5, 2-1, with Stan The Man closing in for the kill, Djokovic called it a night. He had already called out the trainer to work on his injured left shoulder. It had clearly made no difference.
The crowd on Arthur Ashe roared their disapproval. Almost 24,000 people obviously thought Novak should have allowed Wawrinka his moment of glory.
But Djokovic saw no point in aggravating his injury further once he realised there was no way back.
‘I’m sorry for the crowd. They came to see a full match but it wasn’t to be,’ said Novak. ‘You just know when you know, when you feel like you’re not able to hit the shot any more.’
That didn’t stop the loud boos from continuing as Djokovic made his way off court. You wouldn’t hear them at Wimbledon. But Flushing Meadows at night is a firecely gladiatorial place. Some would say that’s what makes it special.
Wawrinka, however, sympathised with Djokovic. ‘He’s an amazing champion. If he has to retire, it’s not the best for a tennis player to have to leave the court like that.’
On his own stunning display, Stan observed: ‘The more the match was going, the better I was playing. I was hitting the ball really hard. I was feeling great on court.’
Rafael Nadal must now be favourite to take the title, though Roger Federer is also going strong. Can Wawrinka keep the surprises coming? Don’t rule him out.
Meanwhile Jo Konta overcame first-set nerves to spring a surprise of her own. She beat Karolina Pliskova 6-7 (1-7), 6-3, , 7-5.
Konta looked to be cruising at 3-1 in the opener and served for it at 5-4. But she couldn’t win a point on that key service game and subsequently slipped behind. Alarmingly Konta was also 1-3 down in the second and staring defeat in the face.
It is a credit to her mental strength that Jo battled back, refused to be beaten and pulled off a shock to beat the world number three.
No one was more delighted than actor Tom Hiddleston, who was in Konta’s corner and cheering loudly.
All her excellent decision-making in the early exchanges returned. Added to Konta’s famed determination, it proved a winning blend.
After becoming the first British woman to reach the quarter-finals since 1983, Konta said: ‘I’ve been in the fourth round twice before so this is a massive achievement for me…It was a great match and I am so happy.’
The Brit is superb at coming from behind. What she must learn to do is to feel more comfortable when she has the upper hand from the start.
That’s what will give Konta a more convincing platform from which to mount an assault for her first Grand Slam title.
Next up is Elina Svitolina, who beat Madison Keys. And the women’s title is anyone’s, with Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka still in the hunt.
Whatever happens, the enduring image from the women’s tournament will probably be that of Osaka comforting a tearful Coco Gauff after soundly beating the fifteen-year-old a couple of days back.
Heartwarming stuff. And we have already seen the hard and soft sides to the US Open.