MELBOURNE, Australia — Sequels can be irresistible. A cast with great chemistry reprising beloved roles in a similar setting is often a formula for entertainment, if not duplication of the original’s success.
But in their third meeting in three years at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka wrote a script Friday night on par with “The Godfather: Part III” or “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
After producing two five-set epics that brought out the best in each other, the top-seeded Djokovic and Wawrinka, the defending champion, seemed to bring out the worst in each other in the third meeting, with Djokovic ultimately claiming victory, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. Djokovic, a four-time champion here, will face Andy Murray, a three-time runner-up, in the final Sunday.
“I’m sure everybody who came to watch the match live and watched it on TV were expecting a five-set match,” Djokovic said. “It’s what we delivered for them.”
To say they delivered what was expected of them was debatable.
“Describe the match?” Wawrinka repeated back to a reporter at the start of his news conference. “Strange. Not the best, for sure.”
Despite having played well in the quarterfinals, neither man was able to sustain anywhere near his best tennis Friday night: The two combined for a whopping 118 unforced errors. Djokovic, who had been broken only once in his previous five matches, surrendered his serve five times to Wawrinka.
Djokovic’s previous contests with Wawrinka had been some of his best in Melbourne. He won their 2013 fourth-round encounter, 12-10, in the fifth, and lost their 2014 quarterfinal, 9-7, in the fifth. This time, the 6-0 fifth set seemed like a merciful reprieve from what had been a difficult match to watch.
“The battle was great,” Djokovic said. “It was no different this year from the previous two years in terms of, you know, fighting from both sides. The only difference was that the fifth set went completely my way.”
Their previous encounters in Melbourne (as well as another five-setter in the semifinals of the 2013 United States Open, which Djokovic won) had been defined by complementary play, with Wawrinka’s cannon-fire groundstrokes pushing Djokovic’s speed and counterpunching skills to their limits. But Wawrinka struggled to control his power Friday night, and Djokovic’s counterattack drifted into passivity. In the fourth set, Djokovic won four games but hit zero winners.