Stan Wawrinka feels he is ready to emerge from the shadow of the great Roger Federer and make his own statement in their semi-final showdown at the Australian Open.
The big-hitting Wawrinka mastered former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets to reach his third Australian Open semi-final and set up the all-Swiss semi-final with Federer.
The world number four won 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-3 in two hours, 15 minutes for his eighth Grand Slam semi-final appearance and has Federer blocking his way to a fourth major final.
So often Wawrinka has been pushed into the background by the dazzling achievements of 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer, but he gets one of his rare chances for a prestige victory on Thursday.
“Yeah, for sure now I’m more confident with myself. When I step on the court, doesn’t matter who I play, I know what I have to do if I want to win,” Wawrinka said.
“For sure, against Roger, it’s always special because he’s so good. He’s the best player of all time. He has an answer for everything.
“But I have managed to beat him in a Grand Slam, so we’ll see. Most important is that I step on the court and I play my best tennis.”
Either Federer or Wawrinka will get an unexpected shot at the Australian title following the sensational early exits of world number one Andy Murray and six-time winner Novak Djokovic.
It was a consummate performance from Wawrinka against Tsonga in an at-times feisty encounter, with three service breaks from three break points, 41 winners, 21 of them on the forehand, and just 28 unforced errors.
There were some tense moments between the two with an extraordinary squabble breaking out after Wawrinka took the opening set in a tiebreaker.
During the terse conversation in French, Wawrinka was heard to tell Tsonga, “You’re the one who’s looking and talking to me” and then, “Relax, it’s just a tennis match.”
The exchange follows an incident at the 2014 Davis Cup final when the French team confronted Wawrinka over a comment he made during Switzerland’s victory in Lille.
– Watching brief –
Both players were later reluctant to discuss the argument, with Wawrinka telling reporters: “It’s a tennis match. You can always have some tension.
“Everybody goes on the court to win the matches. Things can happen. But at the end there is no problem after the match.”
It was the fourth meeting between the pair at a Grand Slam, but the first away from Roland Garros, with Wawrinka now winning three of his encounters with Tsonga.
It was also their first meeting on a hard court in almost a decade, having contested their last six encounters on clay.
Among Wawrinka’s three major triumphs is his win over Rafael Nadal in Melbourne three years ago, when he became the first player to defeat the top two seeds en route to a major title since Spaniard Sergei Bruguera won Roland Garros in 1993.
Wawrinka also won the 2015 French Open, beating Federer in the quarters, and last year’s US Open, both times conquering Djokovic.
Games went with serve in the opening set and in the tiebreaker, with Wawrinka prevailing on the first of his four set points.
Tsonga got the first break of the match in the seventh game of second set, but the Swiss broke him in his next two service games to grab a two sets lead.
Wawrinka fought off break points in the opening game of the third set before breaking the Frenchman and holding on to the break to the end.