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Stan Wawrinka and Angelique Kerber Are US Open Champions


Locker Room

September 12, 2016

 

Is there a finer sight in world sport than Stan Wawrinka in full flow against Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam final?

This is as good as it gets. As good, you suspect, as sport will ever get. It’s why tennis has no rival.

And how fantastic did Angelique Kerber have to be, in order to beat the rising talent that is Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4? It sounds relatively straight forward. It wasn’t!

The US Open 2016 showed us that you have to reach stratospheric levels of accuracy, fitness and fighting spirit to prevail at the top of our beautiful sport these days.

And no one illustrated that better than Wawrinka, whose level never dipped throughout a match that had the huge crowd audibly gasping with pleasure and awe.

Three times we have seen the underdog triumph against the best player in the world. Never in the same place on the planet.

In order to do so, Stan the Man has had to assume super-human powers of nerve and precision.

He has had to ping those sweet backhands and bruising forehands into one corner then the other, keeping Djokovic constantly on the move until the Serb is finally run ragged.

That’s what happened in the final at Flushing Meadows. Djokovic was worked so hard that his body just couldn’t take any more.

Novak succumbed to blisters and strains, though bravely and to his great credit he battled on. That gave Wawrinka a fitting moment of glory. And how we all cheered because we knew he deserved it.

The superb Swiss is now a triple Grand Slam champion. The Australian, the French and now the US Open have all fallen to his brilliance.

When he is on song, Wawrinka is simply unstoppable – and how sweetly his racquet sang in New York!

Even when he lost the tie-break by a crushing 1-7, you felt he had been so impressive in that opening set that he was well-and-truly in the fight.

Wawrinka then hit levels of tennis rarely seen before, even from him. Some of the action was so fast and furious that you wondered whether they were still running the video at normal speed.

Some of the shots were so instinctive and yet so perfect that you asked yourself what Wawrinka had done to deserve such gifts from the tennis gods.

Worked hard. Believed in himself. That’s what Stan the Man had done. And he never stopped believing until the job was finished and he had won 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

Not even when he was clearly upset by the umpire’s decision to allow Djokovic at injury time-out at 1-3 in the fourth – despite the fact that there was no obvious or sudden injury to Novak at that particular point in time.

That could have had an impact on Wawrinka’s inner peace.

Djokovic limped and winced his way through that final set, a further potential distraction, and we knew by then that only a failure to focus could prove to be Stan’s downfall.

But Wawrinka was just as strong mentally as he was physically. The bundle of muscle was on a mission and he accomplished that mission in truly breathtaking style.

Was it perfection? Technically no, because neither man could have been proud of first serve percentages barely above fifty per cent. That just made for more rallies. Action that brought the crowd to its feet and left millions back home open-mouthed and applauding too.

This was unparalleled sporting theatre, graced with more flashes of sheer brilliance than any sports fan has a right to expect.

Wawrinka in a Grand Slam final is as great as any sport gets. The flowing beauty of the backhand, the awesome force of the forehand, the relentless pressure and bravery of a man rarely tipped to win. You just don’t find such magic elsewhere. Not in such liberal quantities.

Tennis is still king. The daddy of them all. And the protagonists made us love them even more when all was said and done.

Wawrinka and Djokovic both welled up as Novak admitted that Wawrinka had been the better player, and Stan then paid tribute to what Novak has done for the sport.

And what of the women? Angelique Kerber was also in tears when she realised that she had crowned her moment of glory, becoming world number one, with a second Grand Slam title this year.

There was a moment in that final set against Pliskova when she looked defeated, techincally, physically and mentally.

That’s when she raised her game and fought back, feeding off Pliskova’s understandable tension, as the underdog began to see the finishing line.

That, too, made for a mesmerising and moving final, full of drama and passion. Pliskova will learn from her reverse. She will win a Slam sooner rather than later if she continues to play like that.

As for Kerber, she is loving every moment. She has confidence. She has charisma. She is great for the women’s game and a fitting champion. She is box office.

Well done, the US Open. What theatre you provided in those final stages! We even had another Murray lift a trophy, when Jamie partnered Brazilian genius Bruno Soares to the men’s doubles title.

They beat Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-3 in sweltering conditions.

All in all it was a magnificent end to the Grand Slam calendar – and we’ll have so much to savour again next year.

Rest assured that Wimbledon will more than play its part in 2017 – it always does. Every year it seems to hit new heights.

How lucky we are to be tennis fans in this golden era!

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