MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — For the man nicknamed “Stanimal,” this was not the way for defending champion Stan Wawrinka to go out of the Australian Open — with a whimper, not a roar.
It was the third straight year Wawrinka and Djokovic played a five-set match at Melbourne Park, but unlike their previous two encounters — which lasted a combined nine hours and featured exceedingly close fifth sets — this one ended with a thud.
The Swiss player couldn’t offer any resistance in the critical fifth set on Friday, falling 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.
It was a “stanemic” performance. Even Wawrinka was at a loss for words.
“Describe the match? Strange. Not the best, for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I don’t know. Next question.”
Coming back to the site of his first Grand Slam title, Wawrinka had handled the pressure relatively well over the past two weeks.
He only dropped one set on his way to the semis — against Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth round — and easily beat the most dangerous player in his part of the draw, rising Japanese star Kei Nishikori.
Coming into the semifinal against Djokovic, he was starting to resemble the player who stunned the Serb last year in the quarterfinals — his first win over Djokovic in the last 15 matches — and then went on to beat No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the final.
In Friday’s semifinal, though, Wawrinka seemed to lack intensity on the big points and shanked way too many erratic shots. He had 69 unforced errors and in the final set, he didn’t win a single point on his second serve.
He fell to 1-17 against top-ranked players, his only win coming against Nadal last year.
Wawrinka said he could be suffering from a hangover from his exceptional 2014, which also included reaching the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London and then helping to lead Switzerland to its first-ever Davis Cup victory with compatriot Roger Federer.
The Davis Cup finals were in late November, meaning both Wawrinka and Federer had truncated off-seasons. Federer lost earlier than expected in Melbourne, falling in the third round to Andreas Seppi.
“I told my coach before the match and already yesterday that I was mentally completely dead and no battery,” Wawrinka said. “Tough to focus on what I want to do. Tough to focus on my game. And that’s what happened today.”
Wawrinka’s ranking will now fall to No. 9 — his lowest position since October 2013. But the Swiss player isn’t worried about the state of his game.
“I think I’m playing better than last year,” he said. “The most important is I need to do everything possible to keep that level all the season and not only few tournaments.”
His confidence was evident in the smiling way he brushed off the loss and his choice of attire for his post-match news conference: he was still wearing a “Stan the Man” T-shirt.
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