Through to the finals: Stanislas Wawrinka. Photo: Joe Armao
Stanislas Wawrinka has never beaten Rafael Nadal and has only a solitary victory over his compatriot Roger Federer. On Sunday, the other Swiss will be seeking his second victory from 26 encounters with that peerless pair and an unlikely grand slam title.
Just as Wawrinka will enter the final as the poor relation, his semi-final against Tomas Berdych - a player of similar rank, but vastly different build and attire - also was very much the "second" semi-final, but the upshot was this: Wawrinka won enough of the key points to prevail in four very tight sets 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6.
Wawrinka said, after beating Berdych in their three most recent meetings, that the Czech could be susceptible under pressure.
Australian Open: Tomas Berdych v Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka wins through to the 2014 Australian Open men's final, beating Tomas Berdych in four sets. Age photographer Joe Armao was centre court to capture another night's action. Photo: Joe Armao
‘‘Last year I played four times against Tomas. He beat me the first in Davis Cup, but then I won three times,’’ Wawrinka said.
‘‘He was always the one who was a little bit choking (in a) few moments, a little bit down, and that’s what happened today again.’’
Wawrinka said he sensed his opponent’s nerves.
‘‘I had the feeling he was really nervous and really tired because he gave me a little bit some points in the tiebreak, the third set tiebreak and fourth set tiebreak, with some double-faults,’’ he said.
Inconceivably, he will be the top-ranked Swiss should Federer v Nadal remain true to historic pattern. Wawrinka, who broke into the top 10 in 2013 for the first time, would likely jump ahead of the Fed if his compatriot lost on Friday evening.
Wawrinka said the prospect of playing Federer in a major final would be "amazing," since "Roger is the best player ever." He said Federer had texted him, noting that two Swiss had not played semis of grand slam singles event ever before. "I told him for you it's normal. For me it's not normal."
Wawrinka had reached the final four on the back of his tournament-defining upset of Djokovic, and if this storied triumph made him the people's choice, there was a question on whether this would be Stan's last stand, whether his legs would withstand more punishment, if he had the energy to rise again.
He had complained about the unavailability of a massage after the Djokovic marathon, but this oversight by the tournament - possibly caused by Stan's lack of an entourage (the superstars have their own masseuse) - had no negative consequences for the semi-final. He will be hoping that his friend Federer prevails in the blockbuster semi, of course, perhaps with the rider that the match is long and taxing.
Wawrinka had beaten Djokovic by winning the points that mattered most, and his semi-final continued that plotline - he won 143 points to his opponent's 142, yet won in four sets.
In a match in which the (first) serve dominated the return, he didn't dent Berdych's serve often, but he did it in a handful of decisive points. In this semi, like the Djoker game, Stan walked a tightrope - breaking serve only once for the entire match. The difference is that he wasn't broken at all, despite holding less raw power on the service.
Wawrinka had a knack for responding when cornered. In the fourth set, he repeatedly found himself at 0-30, or 15-30, but very soon he would be 40-30. There were only a handful of break points and only one break of serve for the entire match - Wawrinka finding one in the opening set. Over the duration of the match, "Stan" faced only one break point, and held just four.
Thus, the remainder of the match would be determined by tiebreaks. Berdych, as the heavier server might have been favoured, but it was the Swiss man's edge in composure - and Berdych's slight fragility on just a few occasions - was decisive.
The inability of each player to break serve, or even to produce break point opportunties was like an old-fashioned Wimbledon match between serve volleyers - except without the volleying.
Wawrinka's snatched the first set, with a sudden, out-of-the-blue break of Berdych's serve. The set was really served up on a platter, given that Berdych gifted Stan three points with clangers - a pair of botched forehands, then a gimme overhead that he sent out at 15-40 for the break. Wawrinka, though, had been more convincing and forthright - particularly on the forehand, once considered his weaker wing.
But aside from that slip, Berdych had been steady on serve, and the Czech's more potent serve would be his rock in the second set, in which he would win the tiebreak comprehensively (7-1) to square what had been a pretty even match; Berdych served nine aces in the second set and he was judicious in making largely successful trips to the net.
One set each was a fair reflection of the balance of play. The edges were slight, the margins for error small and those foolish enough to bet on tennis mid-match would have found it difficult to predict the outcome. It was a match befitting a contest between the world's no 7 and no 8.
Wawrinka had conceded a set without conceding a break of serve. Indeed, he had the only break point - at 3-all - of the second set, but Berdych's serve extricated him from this cliff-face. The Czech's serve was formidable armor.
But over the course of three and a half hours, Switzerland's second banana was able to pierce the breast plate on a few occasions, and by doing so, booked his first chance to emerge from the shadow of Federer.