It’s certainly not surprising that Novak Djokovic has a chance to win another Grand Slam, but his path to the U.S. Open final has been anything but standard.
Two of Djokovic’s opponents in New York retired early, and he also earned a walk-over victory. As a result, he’s only played 14 total sets in six matches, and none of those have come against Roger Federer (injured), Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.
But that “free ride” will end Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium when he faces old nemesis Stan Wawrinka in the men’s singles final.
Wawrinka isn’t a “Big Four” member, but he’s made a strong case to extend it to five with his two Grand Slams since the start of the 2014 season.
Tennis fans remember well some of the instant classics Wawrinka and Djokovic have been involved in, including their battles in the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French Open.
Wawrinka had a major breakthrough against Djokovic in a thrilling five-set win in their quarterfinal match at the 2014 Australian Open, and he followed that up with a stunning four-set win in the 2015 French Open final, which made Djokovic wait another year to complete his career Grand Slam.
Djokovic still holds an overwhelming 20-4 advantage in their head-to-head meetings, but Wawrinka has proven he can beat the No. 1 player in the world on some of the biggest stages before, and there’s a good chance he does it again Sunday.
One of Wawrinka’s biggest weapons is his one-handed backhand. But the problem for him or anyone playing Djokovic is that the 29-year-old Serb is one of the greatest defensive tennis players you’ll ever see, especially when it comes to return of serves.
But Wawrinka, who leads the U.S. Open men’s field in first and second serve return points, also does some of his best damage on defense, often with his signature backhand.
It also should be noted that this summer hasn’t exactly been ideal for Djokovic. He lost early at Wimbledon and at the Olympics, and he’s had to play through injuries in New York.
The chance is there for Wawrinka to pull off another stunning win, but picking against Djokovic would be ill-advised. He’s the best men’s tennis player on the planet right now, and he should inch closer to Federer with his 13th career Grand Slam on Sunday.
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