While Andy Murray rests up and watches on with more than a mild interest, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka will duel it out on Friday for the right to face the Scot in the Australian Open final. After Murray booked a spot in his fourth final in Melbourne by ousting Tomas Berdych in four sets, attention turns to the second semifinal and a meeting between the world No. 1 and the defending champion.
It’s also a matchup with plenty of history. The pair will be meeting for the third straight year at the Australian Open, having shared two classic contests. In 2013, Djokovic outlasted the Swiss 12-10 in an epic fifth set in the last 16 for what was his toughest test en route to winning a third consecutive title Down Under and an Open-era record-equaling fourth in total.
For Wawrinka, it was his 11th successive defeat to the Serbian. Three more were to follow before the end of 2013, including yet another agonizing five-set loss at a Grand Slam, this time at the U.S. Open. Yet, rather than deflated, Wawrinka used the defeats as motivation and a sign that he was getting closer to making a long-sought breakthrough on the biggest stage, against the very best. A year ago, he cracked it. In the Australian Open quarterfinals he and Djokovic again went to a fifth set, only this time it was the man form Lausanne who prevailed. After going on to beat Tomas Berdych and then another of the game’s greats, Rafael Nadal, in the final, Wawrinka achieved his dream and became the first player outside the Big Four of men’s tennis to win a Grand Slam since 2009.
While the 29-year-old had some struggles backing up that achievement, he finished the year by winning the Davis Cup alongside Roger Federer and has now won nine straight matches to start 2015, including an impressively routine dispatching of U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. And Wawrinka believes he is even better positioned after his triumph 12 months ago.
“I know that now I have a Grand Slam at home,” he said. “I have the Grand Slam trophy. I won the Davis Cup also. I have the confidence from that. I know I can make it. I trust my game. I trust myself on the court even when playing a semifinal or final in a Grand Slam.”
Yet Wawrinka will be coming up against an opponent in similarly top form. Djokovic has yet to drop a set through to the semifinals and saw off the challenge of big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic with little fuss in the last eight. The top seed is now prepared for the latest battle in an Australian Open rivalry that dates back to the qualifying event 10 years ago.
“We played five-set matches in 2013 and '14 Australian Open,” Djokovic said. “I'm going to be ready for a fight. But knowing that I have raised the level of performance tonight, and probably playing the best match of the tournament so far is affecting my confidence in a positive way. Hopefully I can carry that into next one.”
Start time: 3:30 a.m. EST
TV channel: ESPN
Live stream: ESPN3, Watch ESPN