The top-ranked Djokovic finished over the top of Wawrinka in a seesawing 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory on Friday night to set up a final against long-time friend and rival Andy Murray, a player he has beaten twice in the championship match in Australia.
Djokovic has a 100% winning record in finals at Melbourne Park, claiming his first Grand Slam title here in 2008 and winning three consecutive years from 2011 before his run was ended in the quarterfinals last year by Wawrinka.
“As it was the case last two years, we played five sets. I was ready for the battle,” Djokovic said. “We pushed each other to the limit.”
The previous three Grand Slam meetings between Djokovic and Wawrinka had gone five sets, including two at the Australian Open that lasted a combined nine hours. The Serbian player has now won 17 of their 20 career matches.
Djokovic won 12-10 in the fifth set in the fourth round in 2013 that lasted five hours and two minutes — the fourth-longest match in Australian Open history — and Wawrinka won 9-7 in the fifth in the quarterfinals last year.
He now shares the record with Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg for reaching the most Australian finals in the Open era — Federer won four of his five and Edberg won twice.
Wawrinka made his career breakthrough here last year, when he beat Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal to claim his first Grand Slam title, but he hadn't been past the quarterfinals at a major since his return to Melbourne Park.
At times he got on top of Djokovic, who looked lethargic at times and didn't realize after winning the third set that he'd taken a 2-1 lead. But Djokovic kept his composure in the 3-hour 30-minute match as Wawrinka blasted 42 winners but offset that with 69 unforced errors. The momentum shifted suddenly in three of the five sets, with both players struggling to turn service breaks into big leads.
“I think I played well up two sets to one and a break and then played a couple of loose games,” Djokovic said. “I allowed him to come back into the match and Stan is a quality player and he knows how to get into the court and use his opportunities.”
Sixth-seeded Murray, who has lost three Australian Open finals, moved into the championship match with a fiery four-set win over No. 7 Tomas Berdych on Thursday night, capping a day when Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova set up a women's final featuring the two top-ranked players — a first in 11 years at Melbourne Park.
Murray has lost three finals at Melbourne Park — to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in '11 and '13. He'll get a chance to end that streak on Sunday, against either Djokovic or defending champion Stan Wawrinka. Since those losses, he has won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon titles to end a long drought for British men in the majors.
Murray's win over Berdych will be remembered more for the tension between the players than the shot-making on the court.
There were the usual expletives from Murray, but this time his fiancée, Kim Sears, appeared to mouth several from the player's box too.
Asked at a news conference about Sears' using "Anglo-Saxon adjectives," Murray said media hype in the lead-up to the match added to the tension for everybody involved.
"It's completely normal that, yeah, the whole first set everyone was tight. My physical trainer … Even Tomas, who very rarely says anything on the court, there was tension there for him, as well," Murray said. "Yeah, in the heat of the moment you can say stuff that you regret. And, yeah, that's it."
There were also complaints from Berdych about the balls — the umpire checked them, no problem. And then there was an attempt by Berdych at some mild-mannered trash talk as the players swapped ends after he captured the first set.
Berdych muttered something as the two men crossed, causing an annoyed Murray to complain loudly to the umpire, Pascal Maria. When Maria asked Berdych what he said, he responded, "Good play, Tomas. That's all I said."
That was pretty much the end of the good play from Berdych in the match.
Tensions were high before the match because Murray's former coach, Dani Vallverdu, is now in Berdych's camp performing the same duties. Murray acknowledged the acrimony on the court, but blamed the media for making a bigger deal of Vallverdu's move from Murray to Berdych in November.
"You wanted there to be tension," he said after the match.
"A lot was made of Dani, my ex-coach, working with him. ... This is sport, there's more to life than sport. It was a little unfair and created extra tension."
Top-ranked Serena Williams has won all five Australian Open finals she has contested, her last coming in 2010. After holding on to win the tough first set against 19-year-old Madison Keys, the 18-time Grand Slam champion dominated the second set in a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory.
Sharapova won the 2008 title, but was outplayed in her two other trips to the final — by Williams in 2007 and by Victoria Azarenka in 2012. She has lost her last 15 matches to Williams.
The statistics point to another win for Williams, but she's not getting ahead of herself.
"Again. I have to win. Everyone's expecting me to win. But we'll see," Williams said. "She's playing unbelievable. She was almost out of the tournament and has been playing better every single match. It's impressive."