Wawrinka trails 19-4 in his career meetings with Djokovic, who is chasing a third New York crown and 13th major. But the 31-year-old Swiss has derailed the Serb before on the biggest stage.
In 2014, Wawrinka won a five-set quarter-final on his way to a first Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, beating Rafael Nadal in the final. Twelve months earlier in Melbourne there had been warning signs with Djokovic needing to grind out a 12-10 final set in the fourth round.
Last year, Djokovic saw his hopes of completing a career Slam crushed in four sets by the Swiss in the French Open final. Even when the Serb has prevailed at the majors, it’s often been on a knife-edge.
When he defeated Wawrinka in the semi-finals of the 2013 US Open, he had to fight from two sets to one down.
At the 2015 Australian Open, Djokovic needed another five sets to win their semi-final. “I think he’s so good that he always find a way to be better. For sure he made me better,” Wawrinka said.
“The matchup has always been interesting to see because the way we are playing. I’m trying to be aggressive. I can play really hard. He is amazing defender.”
Djokovic, playing in his 21st major final and seeking a third Grand Slam title of 2016, is only too aware of the dangers posed by the Swiss to his bid to add to his 2011 and 2015 US Open titles.
‘Big stage player’
“He’s a big match player. He loves to play on the big stage, against big players, because that’s when he elevates his level of performance,” said 29-year-old Djokovic.
“He doesn’t get too stressed by the big occasion. He’s very powerful, big serve. Probably the best, most effective one-handed backhand in the world now. He can be very dangerous for everybody.”
Djokovic was left wondering what had hit him at Roland Garros in 2015.
He had beaten Andy Murray and Nadal to get to the final but Wawrinka hadn’t read the script, his 60 winners — most fired off the backhand — proving hammer blows to the Serb. Since that loss in Paris, however, it has virtually been business as usual.
Djokovic went on to win a second US Open, a sixth Australian Open and first Roland Garros in June which finally allowed him to join the select club of career Grand Slam winners.
His only blip was his third round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, an exit fuelled partially by unspecified personal issues. Despite his run to a seventh US Open final, it has not been plain sailing for Djokovic.
He has needed regular treatment on his right shoulder while also requiring help with his left in the heat and crushing humidity of Friday’s bizarre semi-final win against Gael Monfils.
While Djokovic has enjoyed a walkover and two injury-forced retirements on his way to the final, Wawrinka had to save a match point against unheralded Dan Evans in the third round.
He has also spent almost 18 hours on court while Djokovic has made the final after being in action for just over nine.
However, the big Swiss has won his last 10 finals. The Swiss player, so often in the shadow of Roger Federer, has blossomed late in his career, winning the Australian title at 28.
That made him the oldest first-time Slam winner since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001. But history at the US Open may not favour Wawrinka on Sunday. Pete Sampras was the last player over-30 to win in New York and that was back in 2002.
Elsewhere on Sunday, the women’s doubles will be played featuring top-seeded French pair Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic against Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.