Day-12. 2016 US Open

The 2016 US Open Championship match on Sunday: Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka XXIV.

Both battled the humidity as much as their opponents on Saturday; both won in four. Novak ousted the French showman, Gael Monfils – who uncharacteristically took to the slice and drop-shot, after losing the first five games of the match. Stan Wawrinka eliminated 2014 Finalist Kei Nishikori, after being down a set and a break.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Stan has only won 4 of his 23 matches with the World #1, but the last two have been big ones. In 2014, he defeated Novak in the Australian Open Quarterfinals (9-7 in the 5th) and went on to win his first Grand Slam title. A year later at Roland Garros, he defeated Novak in the Championship match. With a win on Sunday, the 31-year-old will be one Wimbledon Championship away from owning the Career Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic hasn’t had the best Summer. He fell early at Wimbledon, then lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in Round-1 of the Olympic Games in Rio. Despite the two Slam losses to Stan, he’s had great fortune against the top Swiss, with 19 wins, including four at the majors. In 2012, Novak defeated Stan here in Flushing during the Round of 16. In 2013, he took-out Stan in Melbourne’s 4th-Round (12-10 in the 5th), then needed five-sets again to beat him in the US Open Semifinals. In 2015’s Australian Open Semifinals, Novak beat him 6-0 in the 5th.

On paper, Novak has the edge at the majors, 4-2 – but Stan is 1-0 in Grand Slam Championship matches. Something else to consider: When Stan reaches the Final, he truly is – as Novak has alluded to here in New York – a “big match player.” Stan has won his last 10 consecutive Finals. Meanwhile, Novak now owns 12 Grand Slam titles – two this year alone. He’s a 2-time and defending US Open Champion. Sunday should be one to remember in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) def [10] Gael Monfils (FRA)

Final 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Gael Monfils was playing in his first Grand Slam Semifinal in over 8-years. Novak Djokovic was excited to be playing deep into week-2, after frustrating results at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games. Gael had advanced to the Semifinals without dropping a set. Novak had reached his 10th consecutive US Open Semifinal having played only two complete matches, thanks to an early round walkover and two retirements. While they were the main show, the humidity would prove to be their biggest opponent.

SET-1

After the first 15-minutes of play, by all appearances this was going to be a quick afternoon. Djokovic was up 5-0. In response to the World #1’s dominance, the French showman started playing an unfamiliar tune packed with slice and drop-shots. Fans were confused, Djokovic was annoyed. For the first time in years, ticket holders were actually “booing” Monfils. While the “slice approach” got Gael on the board, even earning him a break – Novak regrouped and took the first set 6-3.

SET-2

Novak ran-away with this one, too. Earning five consecutive games after Gael’s opening hold. He’d win it 6-2…a set away from his 7th career US Open Final; but the heat and humidity was starting to take it’s toll on both.

SET-3

This turned into a sweat-fest. Hydration was key. Novak struggled with first-serves. Monfils doubled-over between every point. The two were flat-out spent. Novak broke to open the set, and the rain of boos for Monfils returned; but after the changeover, fan frustration became fuel for the Frenchman. He won the next four games and found himself up 5-2. Two games and a dozen drop-shots later (both were doing whatever they could to shorten the points), Monfils extended the match – winning set-3 with a huge backhand up the line.

SET-4

Had the conditions been better, this would’ve been Monfils big moment. He actually earned a break-point in game-1, but couldn’t covert. He fought back from 0-40 to hold game-2. The two were on serve at the first changeover, then traded exhausted breaks in games four and five. The match now 2-hours and 17-minutes old, Novak took a medical timeout to receive treatment on his right shoulder. Monfils chugged a can of Coke. The match was done. After the massage, Novak dominated. Monfils faded. Djokovic won the next three games, earning a spot in his 21st career Grand Slam Final.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S ROAD TO THE FINAL:

  • SF: def [10] Gael Monfils (FRA) 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
  • QF: def [9] Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 6-3, 6-2, RET
  • 4R: def Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
  • 3R: def Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) 4-2 RET
  • 2R: w/o Jiri Vesely (CZE)
  • 1R: def Jerzy Janowicz (POL) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1

[6] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs [3] Stan Wawrinka (SUI)

Final 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. For the second time at this year’s Open, Stan Wawrinka overcame a one-set deficit, advancing to his 3rd career Grand Slam Final. With his wins at the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open, he is undefeated in Grand Slam Championship matches.

2014 US Open Finalist, Kei Nishikori has been tactically brilliant all tournament. He played cerebral tennis to take-out Andy Murray in the Quarterfinals, and carried that targeted game-plan into his sixth career meeting with Wawrinka. Kei dictated play from ball-up, but as the match progressed…the humidity took its toll on the World #7.

SET-1

Kei struck first, breaking Stan just before the second changeover. He’d then take the set 6-4 with his first ace of the match.

SET-2

Was this going to be a short night? Kei launched into set-2 with his second break of the match. He was now up a set and break, closing on his second career US Open Final…but Stan wasn’t done. Stan leveled the set right after the first sit-down, then broke Kei again as Nishikori served to keep the set alive. Kei handed it over with a rare unforced error, pounding a forehand long. The air hung heavy in Ashe. Wawrinka appeared to have the edge during longer rallies, more comfortable with the conditions.

SET-3

On-serve, the third was interrupted by light rain halfway through the third. After they closed the roof, Stan earned it on a break 6-4.

SET-4

Nishikori was struggling. Stan was up 3-0 at the changeover. But Kei wouldn’t go away. Up 3-1, Wawrinka fell behind 0-40, then handed back the break with a rare miss on the backhand wing. That’d be the last game Stan would lose. After the sit-down, Stan broke right back, held to go up 5-2…then put the pressure on Nishikori early, Kei serving to stay in the match. Punishing forehands earned Stan his first match-point at 15-40. Two points later, a short backhand drew Kei into the net, and Nishikori dumped an exhausted volley just inches below the tape. After 3-hours and 7-minutes, Stan was on to the Final…

STAN WAWRINKA’S ROAD TO THE FINAL:

  • SF: def [6] Kei Nishikori 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2
  • QF: def Juan Martin Del Potro 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
  • 4R: def Illya Marchenko (UKR) 6-4, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3
  • 3R: def Daniel Evans (GBR) 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(8), 6-2
  • 2R: def Alessandro Giannessi (ITA) 6-1, 7-6(4), 7-5
  • 1R: def Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-4

Laura Siegemund (GER) / Mate Pavic (CRO) vs [7] Coco Vandeweghe (USA) / Rajeev Ram (USA)

Final 6-4, 6-4. Friday started with the Mixed Doubles Final on center court. Americans Coco Vandeweghe and Rajeev Ram were heavily favored against the German/Croatian tandem. This was Coco’s second Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Final of the year, after she and Horia Tecau reached the Championship match in Melbourne. Rajeev won Olympic Silver with Venus Williams in Rio. Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavic hadn’t even met before the start of the Mixed Doubles draw, and were the final entrants in the competition.

In a match loaded with deciding points, Mate Pavic and Laura Siegemund became Grand Slam Champions for the first time…

SET-1

Tough set for Rajeev to swallow. Both teams were serving well; both strong defensively, as well – which led to several deciding points. Laura and Mate finally broke through, upending Rajeev’s serve at 4-all. After the changeover, Mate and Laura jumped ahead 40-0 with Pavic serving for it. Remarkably, Rajeev and Coco erased three set-points, but Rajeev sent a backhand long on the deciding point, and handed-over the set.

SET-2

In set-2, the teams traded breaks before the first sit-down…two more games that came down to the deciding point. At 3-all, Laura and Mate struck again, breaking Vandeweghe to gain the advantage. Four games later, in his first-ever appearance on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Mate Pavic hammered-home the win. Despite not even knowing each other before the start of the US Open, despite Laura not feeling well at the start of the tournament, Pavic and Siegemund won their first Grand Slam titles here in Flushing without dropping a set.