-- NEW YORK -- In his first service game, Stan Wawrinka framed forehands on back-to-back points. He completely whiffed on a returnable serve in the next, and suddenly you got the feeling over-played Wawrinka wasn't seeing the ball -- wasn't feeling it -- in this final Grand Slam match of the season.
But in recent years, the 31-year-old Swiss player has made a spectacular living proving people wrong.
The score of this bruising, 3-hour, 55-minute match: 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Wawrinka has now won all three of the Grand Slam finals in which he has played. And all three times, he beat the world's No. 1 player.
You can't be any more clutch than that.
There's more, too. Wawrinka saved a match point against Dan Evans in the third round. And he has now won 11 consecutive finals. In the match-altering, nerve-testing area of break points, Wawrinka saved 14 of 17.
During the trophy ceremony, Wawrinka, perhaps thinking of some of his vital career wins over Djokovic, told the Serb, "Because of you, I'm where I am today."
Later, Wawrinka added, "I came here without putting a goal to win it. I think I played quite a lot of tennis these two weeks.
"I am completely empty."
Earlier, Djokovic addressed Wawrinka, saying, "This has been absolutely deserved today. You were a more courageous player in decisive moments."
Concluding the interview, Djokovic said, "He was the tougher player mentally."
Wawrinka alone prevented Djokovic from winning all four majors a year ago and from winning three this season. Djokovic was trying to join Roger Federer as the only man to win three Grand Slam singles titles two years in a row.
Three career majors -- the same as Andy Murray. It might be time to rethink that Big Four thing.
Djokovic, who in recent years turned resolve from a liability into a weapon, was the one who cracked in those defining late-set moments. Serving at 5-6 to stay in the third set, Djokovic made two backhand errors to give Wawrinka the critical frame.
All things told, this was a wonderful demonstration of tennis.
Wawrinka, with some thunderous shots from both sides, moved Djokovic around the court. But the Serb is the game's best defender, and he absorbed the majority of those blows with some sublime footwork, hand-eye coordination and intuition that borders on telepathy.
The subsidiary drama concerned Wawrinka's stamina. He invested a great deal of energy in mounting a comeback in the first set before losing the tiebreaker.
Coming into the match, the No. 3-seeded Swiss had spent 17 hours, 54 minutes on court in six matches here. Djokovic, who saw three opponents come up injured and played only three complete matches, was on the court for 8 hours, 58 minutes -- two minutes shy of exactly half his opponent's total.
Djokovic was unable to extend the match long enough to bring that advantage into play, but it was he who appeared to be visited by leg cramps in the fourth set after the fourth game. That set off a fascinating sequence.
According to ATP World Tour rules, trainers cannot be called on court to treat cramps alone. Instead, treatment requires an "acute medical condition," and it should occur only on changeovers. But Djokovic asked for the trainer and immediately took both his shoes off, gesturing to his toes, which were then taped.
Wawrinka, who had seen an apparently cramping Evans ask for a trainer in his third-round match -- and be denied -- complained vigorously.
"Sorry, man," said Djokovic to Wawrinka.
It looked like a page from Sports Psychology 101, a desperate piece of gamesmanship, a classic icing-the-kicker play.
ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe agreed. "Complete abuse of the rules," he said on the broadcast. "It's up to the officials to do something about it. They just don't have the guts to do it. That's the bottom line."
In the end, it didn't matter. Wawrinka handled the entire episode with restraint and poise. The two players, who are friendly, embraced warmly at net and talked amiably.
Now, believe it or not, all Wawrinka needs is a title at Wimbledon to complete his career Grand Slam.
On court, he was asked about his mastery in some of the sport's massive moments.
"I don't know," Wawrinka said, laughing. "I've been practicing hard since many million years. My goal is to give everything I have to be the best player I can. I'm trying, step by step.
"That's what happened tonight."