MELBOURNE, Australia -- After hitting a forehand winner to take a 5-2 lead in the fifth set on Monday, Stan Wawrinka ran up to the net and repeatedly tapped his fingers to the side of his temple as if to say he was in his opponent's head, or simply, that he had the mental edge.
Either way, he was right.
Wawrinka won a fourth-set tiebreaker to set up a decider against his opponent Daniil Medvedev, the Australian Open No. 4 seed, and seemed to never look back. Medvedev looked listless and frustrated, perhaps aware of his dismal 0-5 record in five-set matches at majors, and never figured out what to do with his back against the wall. By the time Wawrinka won his fifth game of the final set, Medvedev looked like he was mentally spent and ready to hit the ice bath.
Medvedev's time at the year's first Grand Slam lasted just another five minutes. Wawrinka prevailed 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the Australian Open round of 16 for his 300th hard-court win on tour and advanced to his fifth quarterfinal in Melbourne.
"Stan played good, served amazing," Medvedev said. "I think was a tight battle where first and fifth set he was really better than me. Second and third, I was better. Fourth was kind of the deciding set, let's say, where he was really good on the tiebreak.
"After a loss I'm not disappointed too much. Here I'm like, 'I did my best.' Of course, I could do some shots better, but he played a great match."
No matter how gracious he appeared after the loss, it wasn't exactly how Medvedev, 23, or many others, had envisioned his run ending. Having advanced to the final at the US Open in September -- and having won in Cincinnati, St. Petersburg and Shanghai -- many believed his time to reach the next level had come. He was the trendy pick to win the Australian Open. He appeared to be one of the few who could upset the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Medvedev had beaten Wawrinka in four sets in New York in the quarterfinals, and he was the favorite to win their meeting Monday. He had dropped just one set en route to the fourth round.
But if this was supposed to be the dawning of a new era in men's tennis, it seems someone forget to give Wawrinka, 34, the memo. Himself a winner of three Grand Slam titles, including the 2014 Australian Open, he is one of the few who has successfully played spoiler to the Big Three in recent years. While showing moments of fatigue and dropping the second and third sets, Wawrinka relied on his experience down the stretch. Playing in his 52nd five-setter -- this marked his 29th victory -- he had 18 aces, 71 winners and a 76% win percentage on first serve.
The adoring crowd at Margaret Court Arena, many wearing red and holding Swiss flags, jumped to their feet once he had won. Cheers of "Stan the Man," and "Stanimal" echoed throughout. He tapped his fingers to his temple on his head yet again in celebration before clenching his fist. Wawrinka later confessed he felt like the underdog entering the match despite his résumé.
"The way he's been playing [for] a year now, his ranking and everything, full confidence," he said about Medvedev. "He's playing so well. But when I enter the court, I enter to win.
"I know I have what it takes to do it. I knew it will be a really tough battle because he's a strong player, he's really tough to manipulate, to make him move and make him miss. ... I'm really happy again the way I'm fighting, the way I'm finding solution and the level of the game."
Wawrinka struggled with a knee injury following a first-round loss to Medvedev in the first round at Wimbledon in 2017, and he missed the remainder of the season to undergo surgery. He returned in Melbourne in 2018 but reinjured his knee shortly after and was sidelined again for several months. After losing in the first round at the 2018 French Open, he plummeted in the rankings to No. 263 and has been climbing his way back ever since. He advanced to the quarterfinals at both the 2019 French Open and the US Open and is currently ranked 15th, which matches his seed here. It was evident how happy he was with his performance following the win.
"I think last time I play so well was before the surgery," he said after the match. "I think for sure, I feel since the offseason my level is really high. Physically I'm moving better than last year. So I'm improving."
Wawrinka will next face No. 7 Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals Wednesday and will look to make his first major semifinal appearance in Melbourne since 2017.
No matter the outcome, Wawrinka says he is genuinely pleased with his progress and doesn't measure victory solely in wins and losses on the court. He's just trying to make the most of his latest opportunity because he knows his time at the professional level is winding down.
"I enjoy it," he said. "I think I've always been like that. Always try to enjoy the maximum what I'm doing. I still believe it's a big chance to play tennis. It's my passion -- it's something that I love to do.
"I'm playing, traveling around the world, playing in front of people, getting a lot of emotion from it. I love the process, also the way how you have to try to improve, the time you need to put in the practice court to get to your level. There is many things I really enjoy [about] it. I know I still have only, I don't know how many, but not many years left. I want to do the maximum with it, I want to enjoy the maximum."