But the 28-year-old Swiss player, who is accustomed to patience, as he has long toiled in the shadow of Roger Federer, turned things around in the second and took advantage of a shaky Djokovic third set. And he then rode out the seemingly unconscious serving of the 26-year-old Serb in the fourth and fifth.
When Djokovic broke his serve in the third game of the final set, Wawrinka simply broke back in the fourth. When Djokovic had a break point in the seventh game, Wawrinka shrugged it off, the same way he did a bizarre momentary cloudburst in the 11th game as he readied for his second serve at 40-15.
When rain halted play, Wawrinka glared at the chair umpire, unhappy the match was suspended. But when the players returned five minutes later, he was allowed a first serve and promptly blasted it for an ace and the game to take a 6-5 lead.
Was he lucky five games later when Djokovic chunked a return to give Wawrinka match point, then decided to serve and volley, missing a shot the Serb converts 99 times out of 100? Perhaps. But as Djokovic said, it's all relative.
Yes, he was disappointed by the way it ended, "but, I mean, I can say I was lucky with some shots last year in our match," Djokovic said. "This time it was him that had luck a little bit on 30-all, this mishit return. Then an easy volley for me on a match point. But this is sport. He showed his mental strength and he deserved to win."
Wawrinka said it was an advantage to serve second in the final set. "When I break back, I had the feeling that I had to go to take my chance," he said. "I had to stay really aggressive. I had to push him a lot, because to be ahead in the score, it's always an advantage, especially here when it's quite fast and windy conditions.
"Yeah, it was a really tough battle. I start to cramp a little bit [in the] middle of [the] fifth set, so I had to deal with that. I had to relax a little bit more. I was returning well. But I had to do more with my serve, mixing more, and stay really aggressive."
While Djokovic was indeed masterful on his serve, making 77 percent of his first serves in the fifth set and winning 73 percent of them, Wawrinka was no slouch. He won 83 percent of his first serves (while getting in 58 percent) and committing just 14 unforced errors to 21 by Djokovic.
"Last time he always [found a] solution against me in the fifth set," Wawrinka said. "He was [the] better player. But, yeah, not tonight."
"He served extremely well from the beginning to the end," he said. "Every time he was in trouble, he was coming up with big serves. He took his opportunities. He deserved this win today. I congratulate him absolutely. There is nothing I can say. I gave it my best. I gave it my all. I tried to come out as the winner. I tried to fight 'til the last point as I did [last year], but it wasn't to be this time."
So it will be Wawrinka who moves on to the semifinals, where he will meet No. 7 Tomas Berdych, who broke through to his first Australian Open semifinal in 11 appearances here with a 6-1, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over No. 3 David Ferrer.
"It's a really great feeling," said Berdych, who stalled in his previous four Australian Open quarterfinals.
Wawrinka called it "a new year" and a great fight against "an amazing champion."
"He never gives up," Wawrinka said. "I'm really, really, really, really happy."