MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A brilliant Stanislas Wawrinka ended Novak Djokovic’s three-year reign at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, closing out a five-set classic at a heaving Rod Laver Arena to sensationally dump the Serb from the Australian Open quarter-finals.
Heartbroken by Djokovic in two five-set epics in Melbourne and the U.S. Open last year, the eighth-seeded Swiss played out of his skin to upset his grand slam nemesis 2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7 in an exhilarating four hours.
Wawrinka stayed cool in a deciding set of unrelenting tension, sealing it when the former world number one pushed a shot wide on match point.
His triumph blew the tournament wide open, setting up a semi-final with Czech Tomas Berdych while snapping the Serb’s 28-match winning streak.
“He’s an amazing champion, he never gives up. I’m really, really, really happy,” Wawrinka said in a courtside interview.
“I was really focused point after point. I had to stay aggressive, not to give up. I was tired, I was cramping a bit, I was nervous too. But now I’m going to have an ice bath for a very long time.
“Last year was really tough, this year it’s a new year.”
Wawrinka’s bid to claim a maiden Melbourne Park semi-final appearance started nervously as he notched a trio of unforced errors to gift the Serb the opening break in the sixth game.
Djokovic knuckled down to hold serve and prised two set points off his opponent’s serve.
The Swiss saved one but was powerless to save the second as a jet-heeled Djokovic rushed in to retrieve a kind net-cord and whipped a drop-shot cross-court.
Wawrinka regrouped during a break, found his first serve and went toe-to-toe against Djokovic, edging the Serb in a series of thrilling rallies.
The Swiss blasted an imperious backhand down the line at the end of a 26-shot point to break Djokovic in the seventh game of the second set.
After prevailing in another epic 29-shot rally in his following service game, Wawrinka threw an icy glare at the Serb.
The Swiss thumped a first serve targeted at Djokovic’s body to raise two set points and sliced a second serve into the Serb’s midriff on the second to level the match.
Thriving in the electric atmosphere, Wawrinka rolled on, breaking a rattled Djokovic in the third game of the third set.
The pressure told on the Serb, and after conceding another break point at 3-1, Djokovic roared in frustration, shooting a beleaguered look at his new coach Boris Becker.
The German frowned as his charge blasted a forehand long to concede a second break, allowing Wawrinka to calmly serve out the set with another booming serve.
Djokovic rediscovered his formidable composure, laying siege on his opponent’s serve in the sixth game of the fourth set, but the Swiss saw off threat after threat with a barrage of cracking serves.
At 40-0 on Wawrinka’s next serve, Djokovic turned the match on its head with a brilliant passage of play to clinch five consecutive points.
An astonishing, lunging return from the Serb lobbed Wawrinka and dropped just inside the baseline to bring up break point and the Swiss crumbled with a forehand blasted long.
Djokovic pumped his fist and roared while Wawrinka bashed a ball into the air in disgust to earn a code violation as the tension raised another notch.
Serving for the set, Djokovic wobbled to concede two break points but the Swiss netted the first and the Serb saved the second with a blistering ace.
Djokovic blasted another ace to take the match into a decider and bellowed like a man possessed.
The crackling intensity of the decider told on both players as they traded service breaks and with the match delicately poised at 5-5, a brief break in play due to a passing shower only added to the drama.
Having hung tough through five enthralling sets, Djokovic’s resolve crumbled at the four-hour mark when serving to stay in the match at 8-7. He missed a cross-court shot to bring up match point, allowing the Swiss to complete one of his greatest victories.
Editing by Tony Jimenez