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Thursday, January 23, 2014
Wawrinka shedding his demons

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

With No. 24 seed Dominika Cibulkova and No. 4 Li Na facing off in the women's final, this upside-Down Under tournament already has seen more than its share of chaos.

And now we can savor another slice of anarchy: Playing in his ninth Australian Open, in his 36th Grand Slam event, Stanislas Wawrinka is through to his very first major singles final.

Stanislas Wawrinka
It only seems right that after last year's heartbreaker, Stanislas Wawrinka has made the Australian Open final.
Wawrinka held his nerve beautifully in a 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) victory over Tomas Berdych on Thursday night in Melbourne. There was only a single break of serve, way back in the first set by Wawrinka. Berdych had numerous, modest openings, particularly in the final set, but almost always a mistake cost him badly. In a match of the thinnest margins, Wawrinka converted 1 of 4 break chances, while Berdych was 0-for-1.

And when Wawrinka came off the court, he pointed to his head with his index finger and made eye contact with those in his box.

"I don't know what to say," Wawrinka, who at the age of 28 has fashioned the sweet spot of his career, said in his on-court interview with Channel 7 Australia's Jim Courier. "I'm so happy to be here right now. Finally."

The improbable prospect of an all-Swiss final now looms -- a neutral Davis Cup practice session, if you will. With a victory by Roger Federer over No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal in Friday's early morning semifinal, it would come to pass.

Wawrinka's gruesome history with his countryman -- he is 1-13 against Federer over his career -- may not be completely relevant this time out. Nor, perhaps, his 0-for-12 mark against Nadal.

For Wawrinka has been shedding his demons with every successive match.

In the quarterfinals, he took down No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic -- ending the Serb's 28-match winning streak and, more importantly, Wawrinka's 0-for-14 slump against him. The man who had never been to a major semifinal before last fall in New York has now done it twice in a row.

Wawrinka is playing with such bristling confidence that he showed no effects from the grueling four-hour match against the defending three-time champion that left his legs cramping. This one, a 3-hour, 31-minute affair, felt far easier despite the score.

Berdych had won four of the first six matches between the two, but Wawrinka has now won each of their past four meetings and seven of the last eight. Only the seventh player since the turn of this century to reach the semifinals of all four majors, Berdych was looking for his second Grand Slam singles final. He lost to Nadal in the 2010 Wimbledon final in straight sets.

Certainly, there were some awkward moments. Both players had minor issues with each other, the timeliness of the ball people and the decisions of the chair umpire. And in the latter stages, the match in Rod Laver Arena was visited not by heat or even birds, but moths.

But here is Wawrinka, tennis fans, trying for another personal best. A Grand Slam singles title would be first. He's trying to join Juan Martin del Potro as the only man to crack the Big Four code in the past nine years.

Afterward, Wawrinka mentioned his coach, Magnus Norman, and the word "work" about a half-dozen times.

"We work every day and he pushes me every day to improve and to fight," Wawrinka said. "I was serving well and playing aggressively."

How about that potential all-Swiss final?

"For sure," Wawrinka said. "It would be amazing. Roger is the best ever. I was talking to him about the semifinals, I said, 'It's normal for you, but not normal for me.'"

Wawrinka says he plans to watch the Federer-Nadal semifinal on a couch, maybe accompanied by some popcorn.

"I'm so happy," he said. "I have two days to enjoy this."