Wawrinka defeats injured Nadal to win Australian Open
Spaniard tweaks back in warm-up but Swiss a deserved winner after beating top two seeds
Stanislas Wawrinka overcame world number one Rafael Nadal to claim his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open Sunday, becoming the second Swiss in history to win a major and joining an exclusive club of active players with one of the big four among their triumphs. Wawrinka, who rises to world number three on the back of his four-set victory, sports the legend "Iron Stan" on his racket bag, but it was an injury suffered by Nadal in the warm-up that conditioned the outcome of the match.
The Swiss has been in excellent form and last season established himself in the top 10 under new coach Magnus Norman, but it was in the quarterfinals that Stan shattered the nearly-man tag by breaking a hoodoo stretching back to 2006, finally beating Novak Djokovic. Tomas Berdych was then dispatched in a tight four-set semifinal match before tennis's Everest loomed on the horizon.
Nadal had reached 18 Grand Slam finals before Sunday's match, winning 13. The Spaniard is the all-time record holder in Masters Series tournament titles and had beaten Wawrinka in every encounter between the two without dropping a single set. Before Sunday, Wawrinka's career haul stood at five ATP 250 titles and two Masters finals, in Rome and Madrid.
He was playing amazing. It is very tough to stop him when he is playing this way"
That Wawrinka was the underdog is clear. What the result would have been had Nadal's Australian Open injury jinx not struck again – he suffered a knee injury in 2010, a hamstring twang in 2011 and missed 2013 entirely – is not. Typically self-effacing, Nadal suggested that even if he had been fully fit, Wawrinka may well have upset the odds. "He was playing amazing. It is very tough to stop him when he is playing this way," said the Spaniard. "I just want to congratulate him because he's playing better and better and with such confidence, hitting the ball very hard and moving great. I'm very happy for him. He's a great, great guy. He's a good friend of mine."
The crowd on Rod Laver Arena treated Nadal to a round of jeers when he emerged after a medical timeout, an increasingly heinous crime in the eyes of spectators at Melbourne Park. However, Nadal held no ill-feeling afterward. "The last thing I wanted was to retire, especially in a final. Sometimes it's tough for the crowd to understand. The only thing they want is to see a great match. They paid for their tickets and they want the best match possible, and I was not able to offer that at some moments. The crowd was great with me during both weeks. The support has been enormous, more than ever. I feel very, very proud about how they treat me, how the crowd is supporting me here. You never will hear me talk badly about the crowd here."
Wawrinka, who became the first player to beat the top two seeds in a Grand Slam since Sergi Bruguera in 1993 and the first non-member of the "fantastic four" to win a Slam since Juan Martín del Potro in 2009, could barely believe his achievement. "It's quite crazy what's happening right now. I never expected to win a Grand Slam. I never dreamed about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guys," said the new Swiss number one. "I was unhappy because normally that's not the way I want to win the match. But it's a final. At the end I won in four sets. I think I finished the match well. To get the win, it's just amazing for me."
Nadal was gunning for Pete Sampras’s haul of 14 Grand Slam titles and the honor of joining Laver and Roy Emerson in winning each of the Grand Slams at least twice. Had he done so, Nadal would have stood alone as the only player in the Open Era to achieve the feat, further embellishing his claim to be regarded as the best player of all time. After beating Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinals the scene appeared to be set for another entry in the annals of the sport. But Stan the Man was not to be denied and added Nadal to his Melbourne scalps — the first time any player had beaten the Spaniard and Djokovic in a single Grand Slam.