These days, when Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka play each other at Grand Slams, good things tend to happen. Or at least, time-consuming things.

The world No. 1 and 3 have brought the best out of each other on the big stage in recent years. Four of their last five Slam matches have gone the distance, and the fifth – the one in which Wawrinka turned into a volcano in last year’s French Open final, and rained brimstone on Djokovic’s would-be career-Grand-Slam parade – might’ve been the craziest of the bunch.

It’s been a bit of a strange road to the US Open final for both men. Wawrinka arrived in New York in the midst of a pretty lousy season, and had to ward off a match point against 64th-ranked Dan Evans in the third round. Since then, though, he’s improved by leaps and bounds with each match, and seems to have done that thing where he survives just long enough to give himself a chance to peak when it matters.

Djokovic, for his part, came in on the heels of his two most gutting losses since that French Open final, nearly withdrew from the tournament because of a wrist injury, then had a runway cleared and proceeded to taxi to the final with hardly any resistance.

Djokovic’s draw has been a dream in Flushing Meadows. Wawrinka may yet be the monster at the end of it.

A big-match player

Recent history suggests Wawrinka’s nine additional hours of court time during the tournament won’t disadvantage him too much. If anything, he’s proven he only gets stronger the longer a tournament goes on. He’s won the last 10 finals he’s played, including the two Slam titles he captured by beating the incumbent world No. 1s. He certainly won’t be intimidated by his opponent or the stage.

“He’s a big-match player,” Djokovic said. “He loves to play in the big stage against the big players, because that’s when I think he elevates his level of performance in his game.”

If Djokovic’s wrist is still wonky, it’s about to get tested in a major way. Wawrinka is one of the few players with the juice to hit through the defending champion on a hardcourt (heck, he did it on clay), and take the racket out of his hand.

Wawrinka’s final three sets against Kei Nishikori in the semis were a master class in bully tennis. He moved Nishikori around at will, and slowly ground him down by the sheer weight of his strokes. Continually absorbing the pace a dialed-in Wawrinka so consistently offers will take its toll after a time. And given how badly Djokovic labored during his largely stress-free (if decidedly odd) semifinal against Gael Monfils, it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up physically on Sunday.

Still the world’s greatest

As much as you can think up reasons Djokovic might be at a disadvantage, you still have to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s still far and away the world’s best player.

“When you play Novak,” Wawrinka said, “even playing your best tennis, you can also lose.”

Monfils had been sailing through the tournament, winning 15 straight sets on his way to the semis, but just five games against Djokovic blew his game plan to bits, and sent him scuttling to his bizarre Plan B. Don’t expect Wawrinka to start lofting moon balls back if he gets off to a sluggish start, but don’t be surprised if he gets desperate quickly, and starts misfiring when he tries to put a little something extra on every shot.

Djokovic’s casual dominance has been partly obscured by the extent to which his opponents have climbed over each other to get out of his way, and by half-serious quips about the witch doctor he must’ve brought with him to New York.

In the midst of it all, he’s played some of his best tennis of the summer – striking the ball remarkably clean, covering the court in a blur, keeping his returns deep, and mostly doing whatever he wants – while simultaneously getting ample time for his body to heal.

What to expect

A dogfight, plain and simple.

These guys are going to whale away and make each other run, a lot. They’re going to probe, methodically open up the court, attack on both wings, set up kill shots four or five balls in advance, and dare each other to pull the trigger.

It’s going to be humid, again, but Wawrinka has handled the balmy conditions as well as anybody, and though it almost always works to Djokovic’s advantage when a match turns into a war of attrition, he’s shown just enough physical wobble in the past two weeks to convince us to give the slight edge to Wawrinka.

THE PICK: Wawrinka in five sets

HOW TO WATCH: Tune into ESPN (U.S.) or TSN2 (Canada), at 4 p.m. ET.

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