Novak Djokovic was the first winner on semifinal Saturday at the US Open. Djokovic out-slugged Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a 4-hour plus thriller.
Djokovic overcame a 2-1 deficit taking the fourth to force the decider. Hurting from thigh injury suffered at the end of the fourth, Wawrinka wouldn’t go away winning an epic 21-minute third game of the fifth to hold 2-1.
But Djokovic was the better man in the end breaking the Swiss in the next service to pace the win.
By advancing to his fourth straight US Open final, Djokovic will now be assured of keeping the No. 1 ranking. Next though is a showdown Monday with rival Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard whisked away Richard Gasquet in straight sets this evening to keep his hardcourt record perfect at 21-0.
Djokovic was asked about his 37th meeting with Nadal (Rafa leads 21-15) afterward in the press room:
Q. Third game of the fifth set obviously started turning into its own little thing. How did you come back from that after such a long game?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, first of all, I think, as I said on the court, Wawrinka was a better player for most of the better part of the match because he was aggressive and played better tennis. Other hand, me, I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I can actually win. And I sincerely believed that as the match progresses and longer it goes, I felt I have maybe that physical edge over him, and that I also, being in particularly these kind of matches and situations, playing on a big stage in semifinals, maybe that experience could, you know, give me a little bit more of confidence on the court mentally, also. Even though I was quite nervous at the start of the match and we played five sets I still felt that I was there, you know, and that I was fighting. Credit to him for playing really well. We had some great exchanges, you know, in swirly conditions. Definitely not easy to play because you had to always adjust to the where the wind goes and make a lot of footsteps. In the end of the day, I managed to stay tough and play well when I needed to. That’s something that definitely encourages me before the final.
Q. Stan said he found you were extremely nervous today. He said maybe because of his game you couldn’t find a game plan. Was it the maybe reason, especially at the start of the match?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, yes. I was nervous because I mean, first of all, it’s normal to be nervous, excited, whatever you want to call it, you know. There is a lot of sensations that go through your mind, through your body, because it’s semifinals of Grand Slam. Even though I have been in this particular situation for many times in my career, I still feel the big excitement before the match, and I knew that he was playing well. He had a tremendous performance against Murray. I knew that he’s gonna come out with big backhands and be aggressive, so, you know, I tried to be close to the line. But I wasn’t managing to find my rhythm. That’s what frustrated me. I wasn’t hitting the ball well. A lot of unforced errors. But it was one of those days, you know, where even if you don’t feel well on the court you have to be tough and believe that you can win. And I have done so.
Q. The warning for coaching seemed to take you by surprise. Did the umpire explain the reason?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I mean, in that particular moment I thought that maybe it wasn’t fair to give me a warning at that particular moment because I wasn’t communicating with my box. But there were a few times that, you know, I was looking to my box and, you know, my coach was trying to help out. So I have o complaints about the warning. I think it’s fair, in general, you know, and I had to take it.
Q. You have gotten through this tournament thus far with relative ease. In hindsight, perhaps is it not such a bad thing to have had a real test like Stan gave you today going into a final.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Absolutely. I knew I’m going to be tested more and more as the tournament goes on. Of course it’s semifinals against a player who is playing maybe the best season of his life and came off winning in straight sets against defending champion. So he had nothing to lose. It was first time he was in semifinals of a Grand Slam. It was always going to be tough for me and him. I knew that coming to the court, and maybe that fact that, you know, made me a bit more tense. But as I said, you know, I managed to find my way through, to adjust, and to win. That’s what counts. I’m really happy that I won in five sets again coming back from two sets to one down. Mentally it’s going to help me, and physically I’m fine. You know, I haven’t been spending much time on court before this match today. I’m going to have two days now to get ready for finals.
Q. This is four in a row for you. You have been on this stage before. Talk about that remarkable achievement.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I love playing on Arthur Ashe. Next to Australian Open that I won four times, I think this is definitely my most successful court that I played on, you know. Playing four finals now in a row and five in total, I mean, it’s great. I mean, seven, eight years that I have been coming back here I have played at least semifinals in every US Open. Fantastic. I mean, I have this great kind of feeling and atmosphere that goes around US Open. I love the energy here, but I also have a big team of people and I stay at a friend’s house. It’s kind of this family sensation. It’s important, you know. It gives me a great deal of motivation, but also comfort, you know, to recover and to always, you know, be fresh on the court.
Q. First of all, congrats. Good run.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you.
Q. I think you can say that maybe no one in history has played and actually lost two more notable games than the game today in the fifth set and then that incredible last game of the Wimbledon final, which was so historic and so tough for you. Can you take a moment and just talk about what it’s like to get in the rhythm of these long games and what goes through your mind? Can you possibly compare those two incredible games?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah. Well, Grand Slams always take the best out of every tennis player in the world, because these are the tournaments where all the attention is directed from the world of sport. These are the tournaments that are most valuable in our sport. This is where you want to play your best. So that’s why I feel that not just top players, but everybody who is taking a part in Grand Slam, it’s just a special, very unique feeling. You’re extra motivated to give everything you have, especially at this stage of the tournament when you’re playing best of five and have a shot to eventually to be in the finals. So, you know, the Wimbledon again was a kind of a similar run to this one, except the fact that I hope I will win the finals (smiling). I had a great run up to the semis, you know. Haven’t spent much time on the court. In the semis I had this five set battle with Del Potro, which also you can compare to this year’s US Open with Wawrinka. You know, hard court is my most successful surface. This is where I can say I feel most comfortable and confident. Hopefully I can perform better than I have done in Wimbledon final and maybe get a chance to win a trophy.
Q. You play a lot of guys who come out and they get on fire and they start hitting lines and get a break, whatever, and you outlast them and have to be patient. But today Stan’s level was so consistently high throughout most of the match. Was there any point where you’re tempted to panic, or were you thinking, Well, gee, I have to be more aggressive because this guy is just playing too well?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I knew he was going to play well and be aggressive. I saw him play well especially here against Murray and some matches. He’s just feeling the ball great. He’s very confident, and there is no major flaws in his game. So knowing that, I came to the court, and as I said. I was a little bit tense because then you know you have to be resistant to that but also play your own style of the game. I wanted to be aggressive, and then I started making mistakes. He played well, and then, you know, all of a sudden I was set and break down. But, you know, after that I was mostly frustrated with my own mistakes in the important moments. I was very, very bad realization of the breakpoints. I mean, out of twenty break points I got, you know, three or something. So that could have been much better, for sure. But in the end of the day, it’s a win and I’m very glad for it.
Q. Going into those break points, especially in the third game of the fifth set, it appeared that when you won the deuce point, got the ad, that it happened quickly, and all of a sudden maybe did you not have enough time to mentally get ready for the next point? It seemed to vanish before you were actually ready.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I can’t really find an excuse. Maybe the time that he takes between the points; maybe sometimes he goes fast.
Q. I was going to ask you that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, I mean, he was okay. I didn’t mind that. You know, I think as I said, no finding excuse there. I was just frustrated that I could not capitalize on these opportunities. I have had, you know, points where I played, especially that third game in the fifth set, where we were in the rally and I was able to go for the shot and I didn’t and he did. So, you know, it was back and forth, but even though I lost that game, I felt like, Okay, he’s getting a little bit more tired and maybe this is my chance to step in. And that’s what I have done.
Q. You alluded to this a little bit, but the confidence you have entering that fifth set, is that more a function of conditioning or is it experience or an equal combination of both of those things?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, experience is something that you cannot be born with. It’s something that you get playing a lot of matches on a big stage. So there is definitely part of it that belongs to experience. But also the self belief and just trying to stay emotionally stable and composed and play the right game at the right time. It’s easier said than done definitely. But over the years, playing a lot of five set matches, especially here on Arthur Ashe, I was more than successful here, so that’s something that is always in the back of my mind when I come to the fifth set.
Q. There has been a lot of talk about Andy Murray missing a little bit of edge this week because of what he went through at Wimbledon. But you have had a brutal summer as well, playing even more matches than he has. I wonder how mentally fresh you feel at this stage.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I’m always trying to, you know, push myself to the limit as much as I can go. You know, because as I said before, Grand Slams are the tournaments that I value the most. This is where I need to find that, you know, last drop of mental, physical, emotional energy that I have in me. Yes, I have had a tough, tough season, but also the other players had a tough season so far. So I try to do my best in the important moments, and, you know, now I’m in the finals. Of course I’m not as fresh as when I was at the start of the season, but, you know, I was looking forward to this, and I know that I’m going to be challenged and I’m ready for that.
Q. You didn’t seem to be too happy when he took the medical timeout. What was your reaction?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, no, medical timeout was fine, no, with me. I mean, I have a great relationship with Stan. I just minded the fact that almost five minutes past until he called the three minute timeout. That’s why I thought too much time until he called, okay, now it starts three minutes. Because he went off the court.
Q. What do you feel about the Monday final? I suppose it’s nice to have a day’s rest after the semifinal after a match like that, but at the same time, does it give you much time to recover for Davis Cup?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, to be honest, I’m not in support of Monday final, but this is what it is. It’s better to have Monday final now when you have a Saturday semifinal than Sunday back to back five sets in two days like it was before. I mean, it’s just an ongoing subject with US Open and with people who are in organization here. Hopefully, you know, by the time, like the next few years, we’re going to have to accept the Monday final, but after that, hopefully we can have the Friday/Sunday like in every other Grand Slam. I don’t see why the US Open should get an exception in that. You know, Monday finals doesn’t go in the favor of the players who are playing Davis Cup, and I have been playing Davis Cup semifinals for last few years. Now I have to play for my country again, which makes it much more difficult for me. It’s a different continent, different time zone, it’s clay indoors, and all these things, you know. So I got injured already few times like this, and is something that doesn’t make me happy. But, again, between Saturday/Sunday, Saturday/Monday, I choose Saturday/Monday, you know. But scheduling is definitely something that we have to make right, because I think opinions of the players should be respected more, you know, in terms of scheduling, you know, the matches on the certain days. Like today, I mean, I didn’t find it very fair to play at 12:00 noon the first match and I went to bed at 3:00 a.m. two days ago after my quarterfinals, where the other semifinalists had three days off, basically three days ago they played the quarterfinals. So I didn’t find any logic in that, to be honest. But, again, there are some other I guess influences that have more power than players, and this has to be changed, I guess.
Q. When you’re on the court facing Rafa Nadal, how would you describe the mental and physical challenges?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: When I’m playing Nadal, you said? Well, it’s always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now. I mean, he’s the ultimate competitor out there. He’s fighting for every ball and he’s playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts. He hasn’t lost a match on hard court this year, and we all knew that over the course of last six, seven, eight years, hard court hasn’t been his favorite surface. He has got injuries, many injuries on this surface, but now he looks fit. He had seven months off. He lost three matches this year. With no doubt he’s the best player in the moment this year, no question about it. So the way he’s been playing he’s very confident, but, you know, I know how to play him. Hard court is the surface that, as I said, is my most successful surface. I have played him already here twice in the finals. I know what I need to do. Now it’s of course easier to sit here and say, I know what I need to do, but I’ve got to do it on the court. As I said, I have two days and he has to win his match, of course. We’ll see, you know. Whoever I play against, I’ll be ready to give everything I have for the trophy.
Q. What does this battle for ranking of No. 1 mean to you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s important to me, of course. I have been finishing the years No. 1 last two seasons, and I know how much consistency and hard work and energy put into all this 10, 11 months of a season you need to deliver in order to be No. 1 of the world. So Rafa is I think in a better position right now for that ranking and for this position, but I’m still keeping that position going. I’m fighting for it. I mean, you know, I need to play well and I need to win tournaments in order to finish No. 1. I’m aware of that. But, you know, this is not the first time that I have something like this in front of me.
Q. There was a moment in the match when you were getting the crowd excited. Reminded me of the match in 2011 against Roger Federer. My question is: What role does emotion play for you in the kind of match you played today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, the crowd is definitely something that I mean, it’s a very important part of the match, especially at the later stages of Grand Slams. You want to have that. It’s a necessary support you need to kind of lift you up, to give you wind in the back. Today the crowd was great. They supported him, they supported me, and they supported tennis, most of all. It was packed stadium, and they watched our match all the way to the last point. I thought they were terrific. You know, for me as a player, it’s a pleasure to play in front of such a crowd.
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