As his blazing backhand skidded off from inside the baseline, Stanislas Wawrinka sent his racket rocketing skywards after dashing Novak Djokovic’s French Open dreams with a victory barely anyone expected on Sunday.
It was a 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 triumph only Wawrinka’s nearest and dearest saw coming as the Swiss was facing a player who had looked destined to join the all-time greats by becoming the eighth man to complete a career grand slam.
But destiny and reality were not on the same wavelength on Sunday as Djokovic, who had conquered nine-times champion Rafa Nadal in the quarter-finals and third seed Andy Murray in the semis, fell two sets short of the one title he so desperately desires.
“I played the match of my life, it’s hard to believe. Playing against Novak was one of the biggest challenges. I know how much he wanted this Roland Garros,” a gracious Wawrinka told the crowd after adding the French Open title to his 2014 Australian Open success.
The fans, who had tried to rouse Djokovic throughout the fourth set by chanting his nickname “No-le, No-le, No-le” realised how crushing the defeat must mean for the Serb and gave him a prolonged standing ovation that reduced him to tears.
“I want to say congratulations to Stan and it is not very easy for me to speak now, there are things in life that are more important than victories and that is character and respect,” the eight-times grand slam champion said after coming off second best in a Roland Garros final for the third time.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for you Stan, you’re a great champion with a big heart, you deserve this title.”
After failing to join the magnificent seven of men’s tennis — Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal — in completing the career slam, Djokovic said: “I will be back next year to try again to win the title.”
A year after Wawrinka drowned his sorrows at a popular Paris burger joint following his 2014 first round humbling, the Swiss was all smiles on Sunday as he enjoyed a champagne reception with his coach Magnus Norman in the Roland Garros players’ lounge — toasting a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes.
Victory certainly tasted sweet for the 30-year-old who ended Djokovic’s 28-match winning streak to become the oldest man to hoist the Musketeers’ Cup since Andres Gomez in 1990.
“Magnus always found the words to make me believe in myself (and made sure I) go on court knowing and believing that I can beat the No. 1 player in a grand slam final,” Wawrinka said.
To do that he produced 60 winners, double the tally of Djokovic, in a brave, attacking display.
The points he won included a monster 39-shot rally in the first game and a bone-crunching backhand fired into Djokovic’s body that brought the crowd to their feet.
Nothing, though, dented Djokovic’s iron will as the Serb saved five break points over the course of the first two sets to leave a highly-strung Wawrinka whacking the net with his racket.
That released Wawrinka’s pent-up frustration as he finally broke on his sixth attempt, winning a 23-shot rally on set point to level the match — prompting Djokovic’s anger to boil over.
The top seed slammed his racket to the ground but with his anger still out of control, he smashed it with even more brute force — leaving the prop a mangled mess.
The release he was looking for never materialised as Wawrinka continued to push him to the brink on his serve, a break for 4-2 was enough for the Swiss to win the third set and when he broke again for a 5-4 lead in the fourth, he wagged his index finger high in the air knowing that victory was within sight.
Wawrinka’s attempt at firing down a flying ace on his first match point did not quite hit the mark, cutting short the eighth seed’s raised arm celebrations — but not for long.