There will be many words written about the characters emblazoned on Stanislas Wawrinka’s left forearm. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.”
Wawrinka did not know when he stepped onto court at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night that he would leave it a winner. The quote does not mean that. But he knew he would leave it with nothing left. That he would give everything, even in failure.
Or not fail at all.
For the third Grand Slam meeting in a row, Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, played five sets. And this time, it worked out for the eighth seed.
Because at 11.38pm on a Tuesday night in Melbourne, Iron Stan felled The Djoker. There is a comic strip to prove it.
It all started very well for Djokovic, who had scorched through his first three matches here, formidable in form and relaxed in demeanour. Chest slightly puffed, that half-smile on his face as he set about his business, he took the first set off Wawrinka in just 31 minutes.
Team Djokovic, dressed in symmetrically sartorial black puffa jackets, Boris Becker in the middle, sat back in their seats, quietly confident. Djokovic had not lost a match since September 2013. Had not lost a match in Australia since 2010. Had not lost a match in the fourth round in Australia since 2007. Had not lost a match to Wawrinka since 2006, in 14 meetings.
Another 31 minutes later, they were sitting further forward, as, on the 26th shot of a line-painting baseline exchange, Wawrinka hit a backhand winner to break serve, and duly served out the set.
With the momentum firmly in his feet while Djokovic’s seemed to be slipping on Rod Laver Arena’s blue surface, Wawrinka broke for 3-1, and again for 5-1. Serving the set out 6-2, it was his turn to puff his rather more barrelled chest. He led the defending champion two sets to one.
They say that Becker used to thrive off being backed into a corner, revelling in the chips being stacked against him, the challenge of coming back what motivated him more than anything. The same is certainly true of Djokovic, Becker’s new pupil. It is at this point in matches that he adopts that wild-eyed stare, and starts to run, and run, and run.
Wawrinka made it hard though. He seemed to be everywhere, one particularly brilliant piece of anticipation as, at a full sprint going the wrong way, he angled his frame to make a smash, the ball snitching the outside of the line as it landed. Djokovic was indignant.
But at 3-4 in the fourth, the world No.2 clicked in. With an almost shirt-ripping yell as he hit a monstrous return that forced Wawrinka’s forehand to balloon out, Djokovic broke. He didn’t serve out easily, the Swiss creating his own chance to break back. But two aces later, Djokovic’s third and fourth of the set, the score read two sets-all. A year on from their five hour-epic, the Serb and the Swiss were once again in a fifth set.
Djokovic, finding extra whip, broke to lead 2-1 in the fifth, but Wawrinka, imbued with the confidence of one who has come so close before, broke straight back. Djokovic’s change of pace shots were not having their usual effect. Instead of the slice forcing Wawrinka long, the Swiss was mopping it up with his backhand, the shot that doesn’t have all the beauty of Roger Federer’s, but is wildly more versatile.
But Djokovic continued to press. Pushing and pushing at 4-4, Wawrinka practically needed a spade to dig out a hold. Djokovic held more easily.
And then at 5-5, 40-15, another twist. A rain delay. The players sat down for a few moments as the sprinkles passed, and then they resumed. But although he got a free first serve to bomb down for 6-5, it looked like the pause might have backfired for Wawrinka. Flexing his legs in the cool evening temperatures as officials struggled to fix his broken seat, another line in the plot, the Swiss looked tired, the Serb threatening.
But Wawrinka kept trying.
With Djokovic serving down 7-8, Wawrinka stepped out of the way of a body serve, framing it back over the net. Djokovic, surprised, dinked it out. And on the next point, a match point, a moment you can’t afford to mess with, Djokovic decided to serve and volley. The return pinged back from Wawrinka, low over the net, and Djokovic missed the forehand volley by a lot.
The champion dethroned, the stadium stunned. It had taken four hours. But it happened so quickly.
“I’m really, really, really, really, really happy,” he said, almost bashfully.
“I cannot just let the match goes, you know. I don't want to lose every time in five set against Novak. I had to find solution. I had to fight within myself to fight against him.
“Tonight I'm going to enjoy with the victory of today because I think it's important. That's why I play well last year, because I'm enjoying my life, I'm enjoying the tennis.
“Just really happy.”
They call him the Stanimal. But there were no roars from this man. Just smiles.