Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka go so far back that the world No1 doesn’t remember the first time they faced off in Melbourne Park.
It was in the second round of the Australian Open qualifying tournament in 2005 and Djokovic beat Wawrinka 6-3, 6-1.
The Serb qualified that year and lost in the first round of the main draw to eventual champion, Marat Safin.
That match between Djokovic and Wawrinka was a decade ago, and little did they know that they would end up playing each other in the second week of the Australian Open for three consecutive years.
It’s becoming a tradition.
In 2013, Wawrinka lost to Djokovic in an epic fourth round marathon 12-10 in the fifth set here at Melbourne Park. That defeat was like a catalyst that galvanised Wawrinka and gave him the belief he could actually best the Serb.
Twelve months later, Wawrinka beat Djokovic in the quarter-finals in Australia, 9-7 in the fifth, and went on to capture his maiden grand slam trophy.
Naturally, the tennis heavens put them in each others’ path again this year and they will battle on Friday for a place in the final.
“I think for sure it will be funny to play him again. I’m happy to play him three years in a row. We had some crazy match in grand slams in the past,” said Wawrinka after posting a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(6) victory over No5 seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
“When you play Novak, especially in semi-finals in a grand slam, you have to play your best game. You have to play your best tennis if you want to push him. So far I'm playing great. I'm confidence with my game. I'm happy I won in three sets today. Let's see.”
Wawrinka has every reason to feel confident. Barring a brief slip in the third-set tiebreak against Nishikori, where the Swiss blew a 6-2 lead allowing his opponent to save five match points before converting on the sixth, Wawrinka played a flawless quarter-final.
The world No4 had dropped his last three matches against top-five opposition but was nowhere near losing a fourth against Nishikori. Wawrinka struck 20 aces, fired 46 winners to 34 unforced errors, broke serve three times, was 11/13 at the net and was broken just once, facing one of the better returners in today’s game.
He was unexpectedly a class apart.
“He (Stan) played a great match,” said Djokovic, who played a phenomenal quarter-final himself, easing past eight-seeded Milos Raonic 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2, and winning a whopping 85 per cent of his points on serve.
“Kei has been playing his best tennis in the last 12 months. To be able to win straight sets against him is pretty impressive. Being the defending champion, obviously he's got some of the pressure here. He is facing this kind of role for the first time in his life. He's been playing some great tennis under the circumstances. Got to give him credit for that.”
Djokovic is a four-time champion in Melbourne and has won 30 of his last 31 matches here. But Wawrinka has now reached multiple semi-finals at the same major for the first time and feels comfortable on Rod Laver Arena – the site of his greatest success thus far.
Asked why he is playing so well here, Wawrinka laughed and said: “Why not? I think I got a lot of confidence from first winning the Davis Cup at the end of the year. I think since Shanghai I'm playing great tennis. I'm focused on what I'm doing every day. I'm trying to practice really hard, trying to improve my game.”
On his part, Nishikori – a runner-up at the US Open last year – admits he was outclassed by Wawrinka yesterday but is optimistic about the rest of the season. He is one year into his partnership with his coach Michael Chang and says the legend has helped him in more ways than one.
“It's been working really well I think. I see a lot of improvement. A lot of things, not just tennis, outside, too. Mentally I get more stronger. I think physically I'm little more fit than before,” said the 25-year-old Japanese.
Meanwhile, Raonic was disappointed to lose so tamely to Djokovic, but asked what his overwhelming feeling was, the Canadian said: “That everything is going to be okay.”