Paris: Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Bursting off the baseline, Novak Djokovic made another pulsating dash to snare a drop shot and nudge an acute-angle reply. Stanislas Wawrinka stabbed a stretch volley into the open court for the winner, then stared at the opponent whose squealing sneakers were the soundtrack to this match and finally cracked.
Breaking into the incredulous smile of a man who had seen his best shots turned into punch lines by the world No. 2, Wawrinka's grin told the story of his day. Sometimes, when you've exhausted all options, you just have to accept your punishment with a smile.
It was one of the few points that didn't go Djokovic's way today. In a rousing display of all-court tennis, the Serb did not drop serve in rolling past a major rival, 6-1, 6-4, and roaring into the Paris Masters semifinals with his 15th consecutive victory.
This was an incentive match for both men: Djokovic was trying reach the final four in Bercy for the first time since his 2009 title run, while Wawrinka was playing for his 50th win of the year. Fans were eager for a rematch between two players whose shot-making pyrotechnics produced two of the most memorable matches of 2013: Djokovic outdueled Wawrinka, 12-10 in the fifth set of the Australian Open, then fought past the Swiss in a five-set U.S. Open semifinal.
The first 16 minutes provided fireworks, but after playing perhaps his best tennis of the tournament, Wawrinka had nothing but frustration to show for it. Djokovic broke for a 2-0 lead, then denied two break points in the ensuing game. The second seed was growing even sharper with every advancing side-to-side exchange.
Stringing together nine consecutive points, Djokovic spiked an overhead to break at love for 5-1. He won 18 of the set's final 24 points to take the 28-minute opener running away. Djokovic did some fine work at net, hit 11 winners to Wawrinka's 11 errors, and set the tone on return, earning 50 percent of his opponent's first-serve points and 75 percent of those when facing second serves.
Dueling shotmaking off the backhand side—Djokovic's concise two hander and Wawrinka's sweeping one hander—makes for entertaining exchanges. Both men can bend their backhands cross-court with various spins at extreme angles, or blast backhand winners up the line. Both put that skill to good use in the second set.
Djokovic withstood three break points to hold for 1-all before Wawrinka whipped his one-hander down the line to save a fourth break point, eventually holding for 2-1. Wawrinka threw bit of everything at the former No. 1: He drove the ball down the line, used the slice to try lure Djokovic into awkward positions, and even tried hitting through him, drilling a forehand directly back at a spinning Nole, who dodged the drive in the fourth game of the second set.
But nothing would derail Djokovic. He is so skilled downshifting from defense to offense in the space of a single shot it forced Wawrinka to play even closer to the lines. When Wawrinka's forehand down the line is not working, he's in trouble against Djokovic. He surrendered serve at love to fall into a 3-4 hole and never recovered. They've played some thrillers, but Novak is now 14-2 lifetime vs. Stan and hasn't lost to the Swiss since 2006.
In the semifinals, Djokovic will face either fourth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in what would be a rematch of their epic Wimbledon semifinal, or fifth-seeded Roger Federer in what would be a rematch of former champions.