If Stan Wawrinka had caught any of the women’s semi-finals early yesterday afternoon, he could be forgiven for experiencing a momentary case of the wobbles. Both losing semi finalists were coming off stirring, upset quarter-final wins. Both looked as flat as a tack. Both were swiftly sent packing.
But ‘The Stanimal’ bucked the trend. He certainly showed no mental or physical ill-effects from his own quarter-final marathon. In four, nerve-racking sets, he would hold himself together ever so slightly better than Czech Tomas Berdych, who got the shakes when it mattered most.
Watching Berdych on a good day, one can only ponder the absence of a Grand Slam trophy in his cabinet. At 6 ft 5, he’s blessed with the ideal physique for his sport. Technically, he is virtually without flaw. When he’s in the zone and when the ball’s hitting his sweet spot, he can demolish an opponent like few others.
Ever since he tipped Federer out of the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Czech has been touted as the big thing. But he has generally flattered to deceive. Apart from his 2010, giant-killing Wimbledon fortnight, his high-risk game hasn’t always held up against the Big Four. Prior to every Grand Slam, there are two rubs against him — can he sustain his form for a fortnight and does he have the ticker to punch out five set wins? As they say in horseracing, he needs conditions to suit.
What he didn’t have, it must be said, was the most attractive shirt-shorts combination. In fact, he and his entourage looked like they should have been manning a Nörgen Vaaz ice-cream parlour. And when he over-cooked a regulation smash at 4-4, his opponent had the break and soon thereafter, the first set. Incredibly, it would be the only break of the match. Both players had a stack of free points and quick-fire service games, with the Czech squaring things up in a second set tiebreak. The third set headed down a similar path, whereupon Berdych’s cool head deserted him. Attempting two unusually hefty second serves, he double-faulted both times and handed the set and all momentum to the Swiss.
And so, in the most even of matchups, it came down to yet another tie-break. 1-3 down, it happened again, with Berdych essentially double-faulting himself out of the match. Wawrinka was through to his first grand slam final. To those who bemoan the sustained dominance of the Big Four, he is the story of the tournament thus far.
The women’s semi-finals were briefer affairs. The question mark on Agnieszka Radwanska was whether she could back up so quickly after her quarter-final exhibition against Victoria Azarenka. But the Pole barely turned up. She was sluggish and immediately on the back foot against the intense, pint-sized and big-swinging Slovakian Dominka Cibulkova. ‘Pome!’ (roughly translating as ‘Come On!’ in Slovak) got a good workout yesterday. She booked a Saturday night date with Li Na, who was similarly untroubled by 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian was a bundle of nerves in her first Grand Slam semi-final and her serve deserted her. It took her four games to notch up a point on serve and by then the horse had bolted.