Stan Wawrinka bowed out sore, sad and a semi-final loser at the Australian Open on Thursday but consoled himself that it was "the greatest player ever" who pushed him out the door after a classic five-set duel.
Two sets down and facing a stinging defeat by compatriot and friend Roger Federer, fourth seed Wawrinka roared back into the match in a furious assault of power hitting before surrendering 7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3 under the lights at Rod Laver Arena.
With Federer the sentimental favorite and the crowd firmly in his corner, Wawrinka held break points at 1-1 and 2-2 in the nerve-shredding final set but the chances went begging.
Under pressure on his own serve, Wawrinka crumbled in the sixth game with a double-fault that gifted Federer the decisive break, and the 35-year-old marched on to a sixth final at Melbourne Park.
"I don't know what to say. I mean, I cannot just be happy to win two sets against Roger," Wawrinka told reporters, his bid for a fourth grand slam title crushed.
"I'm proud of myself, of the fight I gave tonight and all the tournament. I think there are a lot of positives from this tournament, from Brisbane, from the month already.
"For sure I'm really sad and disappointed ...But at the end I know I tried everything on the court."
Wawrinka carried a knee injury into the match and had it strapped during a medical timeout after smashing his racket in a rage on losing the second set.
But the straight-talking Swiss said it had played no part in the match.
He was also up against the crowd, but could hardly begrudge them for rallying behind the veteran Federer, who will bid for a record 18th grand slam singles title on Sunday more than four years after winning his 17th.
"Yeah, I think the fact that he was out for six months also, fans and people in general missed him on the tour. So the fact that he come back, that he's playing, for sure," Wawrinka said.
"Everyone wants even more to see him play, to see him win... He's flying on the court. He's playing amazing tennis. He's the best player ever."
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