Novak Djokovic grinds out 5-set win
MELBOURNE, Australia -- The opponent was different, the match three rounds earlier. Still, the result gave Novak Djokovic a familiar feeling, and another chance to rip off his shirt in celebration.
Djokovic needed just over 5 hours to beat Stanislas Wawrinka 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 12-10 in a fourth-round match Sunday night at the Australian Open, on the same court where he needed 5:53 to beat Rafael Nadal in last year's final.
"I just had flashback of 2012," Djokovic said. "It was maybe 45 minutes less this match than the one 12 months ago, but still it was still as exciting. I tried to enjoy the moment and couldn't ask for more. What a match point ... unbelievable."
He wasn't exaggerating about the match point. On his third attempt to end it, his backhand cross-court shot zipped past the valiant Wawrinka, who, Djokovic conceded, had outplayed him for most of the night.
"He came up with great tactics today," Djokovic said. "He didn't give me a lot of the same rhythm that I could get into the match. He was the one being in charge. I was passive. "
The win was Djokovic's 18th in a row at Melbourne Park after winning the last two Australian titles and advanced the Serbian star to the quarterfinals of his 15th consecutive major tournament.
Wawrinka, who had been receiving treatment to his upper leg muscles from late in the fourth set, said he would take more positives than negatives out of the match. He led 5-2 in the second set after outplaying Djokovic in the first.
"For sure, I think the best match I have ever played," Wawrinka said. "I fought like a dog like always. At 4-4 in the final set, I thought I might have won the match, but he was just better."
Fourth-seeded David Ferrer won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 over No. 16 Kei Nishikori of Japan to set up an all-Spanish quarterfinal against Nicolas Almagro, who was leading 6-2, 5-1 when No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic retired from their fourth-round match.
Ferrer, one of the best active players never to have won a major title, will bypass injured Nadal to reach No. 4 in the rankings after the Australian Open.
Ferrer was asked if he believes this is his year to finally raise a trophy.
"I don't know," Ferrer said. "Is very difficult to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. In this moment, the last three or four years, they are better than the other players."
"No, no. I think the top four, they are better," Ferrer insisted.
"You have to play your best or more than best to beat these guys," he said. "Hopefully, I can beat them in the Grand Slams sometime."
Critics who questioned if anybody could challenge Djokovic, Federer or Murray in the absence of Nadal at this tournament got an answer quickly Sunday.
Wawrinka stunned the top-ranked Djokovic with three service breaks in the first set and led 5-2 in the second before the 25-year-old Serb rallied by winning six consecutive games. But just as Djokovic seemed to be taking control of the match, Wawrinka launched his own comeback to win a long tiebreaker and force a fifth set.
Djokovic got to serve first in the fifth, giving him a psychological edge as long as he held his serve. In the end, Wawrinka didn't quite have the big-time experience.
Wawrinka had game point in the 22nd game but let Djokovic get on a roll. He saved his first match point with a service winner, then saved another.
At 1:40 a.m. local time, Wawrinka was whacking his head with the racket and biting the ball after giving Djokovic another match point. Moments later, he was slumped on the court.
Djokovic raised both arms, walked to the net and embraced his beaten rival, then pulled of his shirt and flexed -- shades of the 2012 final.
They will have a tough time matching the spectacle of Sunday's late-night encounter.
Djokovic had beaten Wawrinka -- the perennial No. 2 among Swiss tennis players to the 17-time major winner Federer -- in their 10 previous matches. He hadn't lost a head-to-head since 2006 and had won 11 straight sets between them.
"Give him credit, he made me run all over the court," Djokovic said. "He never gave me the same ball. He was aggressive from both sides. I didn't know what was coming next."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.