Putting a torch to a flame: that’s one way of dealing with the vexation of presumed certainty turning to capricious doubt. Nothing is certain, and doubt can be a useful progenitor for inspiration. Even Jesus looked around in anger.
Down a break in the fourth set to Ilya Marchenko, Stan Wawrinka looked inward, his steely resolve having forsaken him, and, as has happened on many occasions before, dispelled the rage within him via the destruction of a racquet, an inanimate Judas for lack of anything else.
Despite being up two sets to one, that one pained Wawrinka enough to require psychological therapy through physical means. It had been a tiebreak, after all, and Marchenko had already withstood a prodding assault. It was only a matter of time, until it wasn’t.
No one can blame Wawrinka for putting his anger on such public display, surely; after all, it was only two days previous that Daniel Evans had pushed the Swiss to the brink of elimination in five sets, and here he was again, catching heat from another seemingly inferior foe.
Rather than overpower with his serve, which is rather great, or slice cross-court forehands, which he can do but not to the level of, say, Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka sort of pushes and jabs against resistance. He almost lulls the opponent into a relaxed state, just long enough to stride out to an all but insurmountable lead. His shots aren’t looping, his play at the net was choppy at best, his motion isn’t especially Griffey-esque in its aesthetic appeal, and his serve lacks the drawn-arrow effect of many of his contemporaries. Yet he manages matches to the best of his considerable abilities and jumps at errors with force.
At times against Marchenko on Monday afternoon, the third-ranked Wawrinka withdrew to his backhand, perhaps the best on the men’s tour, relying on it to bail him out of problematic binds. Even when he had the time to switch to his forehand, a perfectly reliable stroke in its own right, he seemed not to, favoring the former as if to defend its ferocity to an uncertain public.
Not that the public needed any convincing, of course. The crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium tentatively held Wawrinka in favor for the entirety of the match, but after the two-time major champion smashed his tool, he gained a more vocal majority. Subsequently, he won four straight games with a new instrument in hand.
His imploring of the crowd to get behind him in the fourth set called to mind Djokovic’s battle with the American crowd in 2015, though the latter had to deal with corralling a fervent cohort of Roger Federer acolytes. Whether Wawrinka retains that momentum going forward remains to be seen; following his 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 defeat of Marchenko, he may face a similar challenge to Djokovic’s a year ago in his quarterfinal against Juan Martin del Potro, a champion in Flushing in 2009. His demolition of the racquet, however, shows how far he is willing to go to engage the crowd and, with his vision blurred, himself.