PARIS, France — When it comes to grand slam finals, Stan Wawrinka is used to playing spoiler.
After upsetting Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open last year, he engineered another major surprise Sunday by topping world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 46 64 63 64 to claim a second grand slam title.
Wawrinka isn’t a member of the “Big Four,” but his achievement at Roland Garros means the Swiss now has the same number of grand slam trophies as Andy Murray.
While the Scot owns a 2-6 record in major finals, Wawrinka is a perfect 2-0.
“I still have a problem to really realize that I won the French Open,” Wawrinka told reporters. “It’s always the same after winning a big title. You are a little bit lost in your mind.”
Djokovic sunk to 8-8 and out went his 28-match winning streak.
“Of course it hurts, especially because it was in the final,” Djokovic told reporters. “I think I’ve played a great clay-court season, a great Roland Garros, came to the position to really win this trophy.”
He must be wondering if he’ll ever win the grand slam he so desperately craves. In the last two years, Djokovic hasn’t made it a secret that triumphing on the red clay in Paris was his main objective.
“I know he’s looking badly and desperately for this title,” said the eighth-seeded Wawrinka.
But with each passing year and no title, he moves closer to the likes of Pete Sampras and Boris Becker — one of his coaches — in never winning the French Open while bagging the three other majors.
This year could especially be a blow to Djokovic, since he toppled nine-time champion Nadal for the first time in seven tries at the French Open and followed it up by ending Murray’s 15-match winning streak on clay. The hard work was seemingly done.
At the same time, they were two draining contests.
“Certainly those two matches were very big in terms of physical demand and mental, emotional as well,” said Djokovic. “Still, I was today feeling pretty fresh as much as I could.
“Maybe in some important moments I didn’t feel I had that explosivity in the legs, but at the end of the day he was just a better player.”
Djokovic needed two days to complete his semifinal against Murray because of an impending storm that caused poor light, and not having a day off between matches had to have contributed to his loss Sunday, if only slightly.
But “there was no reason to find some excuses why this happened,” said Djokovic, who was in the same position at the 2012 U.S. Open and fell to Murray in the final.
Wawrinka did have the customary day off and landed in the gentler side of the draw. Some would argue, too, that lady luck was on his side at the 2014 Australian Open because Nadal sustained a back injury in the final.
But there’s little question that the powerful Wawrinka possesses the game to beat Djokovic — or anyone for that matter. Evidence of the threat he carried came from his recent grand slam performances against Djokovic: In their previous four matches, all of them went to five sets.
On Sunday Wawrinka smacked 59 winners; Djokovic hit 30 and made 41 unforced errors.
“I knew Stan could beat anyone here but even though, to accomplish two weeks like this, it’s something incredible,” Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi told reporters. “Also the Stan now isn’t the Stan of five years ago when he maybe needed six good months to have confidence. He showed it here.”
Djokovic came out stronger, manufacturing a break point in an opening game that featured the longest rally of the fortnight at 39 strokes. And keeping in line with his starts against Nadal and Murray, he was simply impregnable on serve.
A double fault handed Djokovic a 4-3 lead and cruising at 5-4, he brought up two set points on serve. After not putting away a forehand volley and being handcuffed at the net on the ensuing point, things got interesting.
He also lost the next point, yet saved the break point with a service winner.
However, Djokovic’s struggles were just beginning.
Suddenly the serve, and his baseline play, abandoned him. In all but one of his service games in the second, Djokovic faced a break point. He finally cracked at 4-5 — then may have cracked his racket in frustration. Twice he sent his racket to the clay, earning a warning from chair umpire Damien Dumusois.
“All in all, maybe that was the turning point,” Djokovic said of the second set.
The Djokovic who’d crushed Murray for the first two and a half sets and Nadal was long gone. In un-Djokovic like numbers, he struck 14 unforced errors and only six winners. His forehand regressed.
Djokovic fended off three more break points in the second game of the third as the pressure mounted. Wawrinka, the crowd favorite, was in full flow, eliciting gasps from the masses on Philippe-Chatrier court when he crushed a forehand winner down the line, then a one-handed backhand winner down the line in the sixth game in breaking again for 4-2.
But his biggest shot of the affair came with Djokovic serving at 5-2: Wawrinka pummeled a backhand around the net post for a clean winner. His consistent, flat — and rocket-like — strokes were something Djokovic didn’t see against both Nadal and Murray.
They might even make a dent on the Eiffel Tower.
Asked if Wawrinka had the best backhand he’d ever seen, his coach Magnus Norman kept it brief.
“Oh, yeah. Is that a clear answer?” the Swede, who lost the 2000 final to the man who presented Wawrinka with the Coupe des Mousquetaires, Gustavo Kuerten, told reporters.
His play certainly would have made his pal Roger Federer proud. Federer, ousted by Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, took in a football game in Switzerland on Sunday but kept an eye on the tennis via his phone.
A sluggish Djokovic led 3-0 in the fourth but was pegged back for 3-3. Creaking at 15-40 he managed to saved two break points, the second with a stab backhand volley.
Temporarily surging, Djokovic had 0-40 on the Wawrinka serve at 4-3. The chances dissipated quickly, Wawrinka blasting a service winner to save the last break point.
One sensed Djokovic would be vulnerable in the next game and so it proved, Wawrinka ripping a backhand winner on the back-foot for 5-4.
To sum up Djokovic’s day, he erred on a break point in the final game. Wawrinka made him pay and sealed the title with a backhand winner down the line.
“I’m very surprised at the way I finished the fourth set,” said Wawrinka. “I was relaxed on my backhand side and I could hit some wonderful backhands. It’s a rare feeling that you experience in a final against Djokovic. It’s a great feeling.”
Wawrinka became the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win the men’s title after being its junior champ. Soon he was hugging his family and Norman in the stands.
Sustained applause from the fans during the trophy presentation prompted tears from Djokovic, just as it did in the 2014 final.
Serena Williams claimed the women’s title Saturday for a landmark 20th major when she beat Lucie Safarova in three sets. Safarova departed with a title, though, capturing Sunday’s doubles final with U.S. partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Wawrinka and Djokovic are leaving Paris with different emotions.