MELBOURNE – Eventually, some player was going to take out a member of the Big 4 and win a Grand Slam. It had not occurred since 2009 when Juan Martin Del Potro stunned Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the US Open. Sixteen Slams went by and Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray captured them.
Last year, Stanislas Wawrinka began to rise out of the veteran doldrums, reaching the ATP Finals for the first time, finishing in the final eight and almost upending Djokovic at the Australian and US Opens.
But was unable to win those contests or some other critical ones because he seemed to be missing a little extra oomph and kick on his shots at the end of matches. He seemed to freeze and a Big 4 member shut him down.
But not at this Australian Open. His coach, Magnus Norman, convinced that he was good enough – that he could sting first serves, flat forehands and booming backhands. He overturned his two five-set losses to Djokovic by stopping the Serbian and his 28-match winning streak cold in the quarterfinals. He did not allow big Tomas Berdych to break his serve in the semis, and then in the final, he finally hit through a man whom he came into the match with an 0-12 record against. He came out flying and despite some shaky moments against Rafael Nadal and his bad back, he triumphed 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.
“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now. I never expect to win a Grand Slam,” Wawrinka said. “I never dream about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guy. During the match tonight was important. I talk a lot with Magnus [Norman] who has been in that situation, to play a final. He told me it was important not to think about the result but think about the way you want to play, the way you want to win every point.”
Yes, Nadal’s back began to hurt in the warmup, but the Spaniard hung in there and even though he was below his level he tried to survive, hence his taking of the third set. Wawrinka was nervous then as it’s never easy to play an injured foe because it’s hard to get rhythm or figure out a winning strategy.
Nadal did regain a bit of speed and a smidgen of power in the fourth set which forced Wawrinka to play fairly well again. He admitted that the occasion was huge and he was not completely himself, but he kept battling his own demons and was terrific in the last two games. He ripped a forehand down the line winner to break Nadal to 5-3. Then he held at love to win the crown: he nailed a service winner; put together a clean serve and volley; smacked another service winner wide and then won the contest with a blitzing forehand winner.
“I still think that I’m dreaming,” Wawrinka said. “It’s strange feeling. I saw so many final. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slam because that’s where the best player are playing. Before today for me wasn’t a dream. I never expect to play a final. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. And right now I just did it. And especially the way I was playing all the tournament, it’s for me a big surprise to play that well. To beat Rafa today, even if he was injury, I think I play my best first set during the match; I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak in the quarter, to beat Berdych in semis. That shows me I’m doing the right thing since many years. That if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis.”
Wawrinka became the first guy to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a Grand Slam since Sergi Bruguera did it 1993 Roland Garros when he overcame Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. He became the first No. 8 seed to win a major since the 1980 Australian when Brian took the title.
Nadal was quite upset that he couldn’t bring his best, but he is friends with Wawrinka, called it “Stan’s day” and went on to salute the Swiss: “He was playing amazing. Is very tough to stop him when he’s playing that way. So just congratulate him because he’s playing better and better and he’s playing with amazing confidence, hitting every ball very, very hard, moving himself great. In a court like this one, the court goes quick, the bounces are a little bit lower and quicker than usual, is very difficult when somebody’s hitting every ball very hard and with that confidence to stop him.”
So now Nadal leaves Australia without a coveted 14th Slam title. Federer still owns 17, Djokovic six and Murray two. Del Potro owns one and now so does Wawrinka who at the age of 28 may not be done yet. He owns an attractive game and is a refreshing personality that the tour is glad to have.
“To win a Slam, to be No. 3, both for me is a big surprise. But I think more to win a Slam. Because in the ranking you can be No. 3 without winning a Slam. But now it’s both happening, so it’s a big surprise. It’s amazing feeling. I saw Roger [Federer] winning so many Grand Slams in the past, so now it’s my turn to win one. If you look the 10 past years, except Del Potro, it’s only the top four guys who was winning all the Grand Slams. So, I will need time to realize what I did in these two weeks. Because at the end, even if Rafa was injury, I think I deserve that Grand Slam because I won against Djokovic, No. 2; I won against Rafa. I did amazing two weeks, and I was playing my best tennis ever.”