Brilliant Wawrinka through as Djokovic quits

 - Simon Cambers

World No 1 pulls out with left shoulder injury when trailing two sets to love

Stan Wawrinka getting prepared to send balls in the crowd at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

One and a half years ago, Stan Wawrinka limped into the media room at the Australian Open, his recently-operated knee hurting so much you could see the pain on his face.

He needed more surgery a few months later and at that stage it seemed unlikely that the three-time grand slam champion would ever get back to the level that won him one Australian Open, one Roland Garros and one US Open, the last of which came in 2016.

Hug between Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Last year, he made it to New York but was not ready. On Sunday night at Flushing Meadows, he was more than ready, blowing a hole in the top half of the men’s draw as he blitzed Novak Djokovic in the first two sets before the world No 1 quit because of a nagging left shoulder injury early in the third, trailing 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 with a break.

“Amazing to be back at this level"

“I think I was playing super-good tennis,” a jubilant Wawrinka said. “It’s been really tough since my surgeries. It’s amazing to be back here this year and at this level.”

Three years ago, Wawrinka played one of his best ever matches to beat Djokovic in the final, for his third grand slam title and as left Flushing Meadows that year, it seemed as if he would go on to win more.

It was at Roland Garros in 2017 that Wawrinka first started to feel pain in his knee, during his semi-final against Andy Murray, the then world No 1, who also suffered his hip injury in the same match, a problem that saw him have surgery at the start of this year.

The road back has been long but Wawrinka has never given up hope and on Sunday night, he was crushing the ball as of old, the 34-year-old taking the match to Djokovic and bullying the world No 1 from the baseline, his backhand working to perfection.

Djokovic seemed fine, physically, in the early stages, but got sucked into trading blows with Wawrinka and after the Swiss claimed an early break, he held the advantage to take the set.

Stan Wawrinka's backhand during his fourth round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Djokovic called it a day

It seemed like Djokovic was back on track when he led 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set but two double faults in the seventh game gave Wawrinka the break back and he then took four of the next five games to take a two sets to love lead.

The signs were there for Djokovic when he had the trainer out to rub cream into his left shoulder before the start of the third set and when he double faulted to go down a break at 2-1, he called it a day.

“It’s never the way you want to win a match and Novak’s a great champion and he’s been a good friend for years,” Wawrinka said. “But it was an amazing match. I’m happy with the level, I know how well I can play, I have won three grand slams.”

Novak Djokovic walking on the court for his match against Stan Wawrinka at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Djokovic said the shoulder had been bothering him for quite some time.

“The pain was constant for weeks now,” he said. “Some days higher, some days with less intensity and obviously taking different stuff to kill the pain instantly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

“You just know (it is too much) when you know, I guess, when you feel like you're not able to hit the shot anymore. It is frustrating, very frustrating.”

Djokovic said he would evaluate the injury in the coming days and hopes to play his next event in Tokyo, in September.

“I just hope I'll get a chance"

But despite the injury, the Serb said 2019 would go down as a good year, having added another Australian Open and another Wimbledon title to take his grand slam tally to 18.

“I won two slams out of four and played semis in French,” he said. “I had a really good grand slam season. I cannot complain, not at all.

“There are plenty of big tournaments ahead. Rankings-wise, plenty of points to defend for me and try to withhold that ranking No  1. Obviously Rafa has been playing well and Roger and the other guys.

“I just hope I'll get a chance to be competing, because once I'm healthy, I actually like my chances playing in Asia. And also indoor season, I play historically pretty well in those last couple months of the year.”

Medvedev next for Wawrinka

Next up for Wawrinka is fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, who reached his first grand slam quarter-final with a four-set win over the German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, having trailed by a set and 2-0 at one stage.

The Russian, who was booed in the previous round for a couple of incidents on court, again received a few jeers and again, turned them to his advantage.

“I was 6-2, 2-0 down and my shoulder was sore but you gave me so much energy,” Medvedev said to the crowd.