By Jane Voigt
No one in their right mind expected this final. No one.
Stanislaus Wawrinka defeated the overwhelming favorite, Rafael Nadal, to win his first-ever Grand Slam 63 62 36 63. To put this in a clearer perspective, Wawrinka had lost 26 consecutive sets in 12 matches to Nadal before this unprecedented victory. And, this match was Wawrinka’s first major final. The bookies were betting heavily against him.
Over the two-and-a-half hours, the audience packed inside Rod Laver Arena morphed from disbelief — as Wawrinka jetted to an early lead — to anger — as Nadal took a medical time out for an injured back– to compassion — as evidence of Nadal’s injury became apparent for everyone witnessing this drama unfold, and boos became cheers for the suffering underdog — Nadal.
Nadal had never lost a Grand Slam final in straight sets, though, and he didn’t tonight. It was Wawrinka, the nascent finalist, that took a stumble, his mind having gone bonkers the moment Nadal went off court for a medical treatment.
“Tell me,” Wawrinka yelled at Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos. “You have to tell me. What’s the timeout for?”
“I’m not going to ask. I don’t have to tell you,” Ramos responded, with a bite.
“Call someone now,” Wawrinka demanded.
“You will find out when he comes back,” Ramos said, getting the last word.
After the 7 1/2-minute delay, Stan stood up, jogged to the baseline and smacked away just as he had from the early moments of this match. He channeled his ire. He did it at love. Up 3-0.
The trainer reappeared at the changeover. Rafael flopped on his stomach and grimaced, as the trainer dug into his back. Suffering Nadal. The average speed of his first serves plummeted from 180 kph to 158 kph, according to ESPN3. He shortened points and came to the net. His footwork lagged. He didn’t go for the towel. He didn’t stutter-step between points over the Melbourne graphic painted deep in the backcourt. He did not pick at his shorts.
With Wawrinka one game away from a two-set lead, the trainer reappeared. He asked Nadal one question and was waved away.
Rod Laver Arena, home of The Happy Slam, was like a morgue.
Fans’ muted response to Stan’s 2-set lead became a moment to remember. For here was this guy — Stan — who had stood in the shadows of friend and countryman, best-of-all-time player, Roger Federer, his entire career on the precipice of winning his first-ever major, rocketing to No. 3 in the world, and setting a tone for 2014 that would jar the pro game off its tried-and-true Big Four habit of winning 34 of the last 35 major finals.
Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. That describes the third set.
“Then [there] was the second match in the match,” Wawrinka said, during his press conference. “I had to stay calm with myself. Just to try to stay aggressive because he was injured, but he was still trying a little bit. Was not easy. I start to be really nervous because I start to realize that I could win a Grand Slam.”
As Wawrinka’s unforced errors exploded, the medication in Nadal took hold. He grunted. His service speed notched up to 174 kph. The pace of his shots, though, lacked punch. Wawrinka’s timing on the ball went kabboboling down the road. Out. Long. Into the net. He screamed at himself, but the air continued to leak from his game. He could not convert break points, even attempting massive winners. “Gotta make him play,” Fred Stollie said, calling the match for ESPN3.
Stollie is an expert. Forty-eight years ago he lost to Roy Emerson. The Aussie came from two sets down to win the Australian Open title; it’s the last time that’s happened. If anyone today could pull off the miraculous comeback, his name would be Rafael Nadal.
The final set
After three breaks of serve in the fourth set, Wawrinka’s courage boiled over. He smacked an ace to win, to feel relief, and to begin a new life on tour.
Wawrinka’s victory was truly unimaginable, until the games began. Until the disruption from Nadal’s well-deserved medical time out, for he had a bad back since warmup he said in his press conference, Wawrinka clearly dominated. Even with a low first-serve percentage going against him, he won points.
“Sorry to finish this way,” a teary-eyed Nadal told a hushed crowd. “I tried very very hard. See you in twelve months.” As the 13-time Grand Slam champion passed his picture in the tunnel headed to the locker room, he dropped his head and seemed to cry. The disappointment was too much.
Nadal reiterated his praise for Wawrinka, during his press conference. The Spaniard did not want to talk about his back. “This is not the moment to talk about the back. It’s Stan’s day, not my day. [I’m] disappointed and very sad. That’s life. That’s sport. Just accept. I’m going home knowing I did as much as I can.”
After competing in 36 majors, he had won what every player strives to win … a Grand Slam title. He distinguished himself to an even great expanse of sport history. He defeated both the number one and number two seeds, Rafael Nadal (No. 1) and Novak Djokovic (No. 2). Only two other players have reached that height: Djokovic (3 times) and Federer (twice).
His title broke the stranglehold-streak of Les Grands Quatre, who had won 16-straight major titles. Wawrinka joins Juan Martin del Potro in that corner now. Del Potro defeated Federer at the U. S. Open in 2009.
Thomas Johansson defeated Marat Safin in the 2002 Australian Open, too. Johansson’s win was met with disbelief, too, Safin being the odds-on favorite. But the Swede, “used heavy serves and combinations of top spins, slices, flat drives and lethal drop shots to break down Marat Safin’s power game,” Sports Illustrated reported on January 27, 2002.
Johansson never won another major. The same fate could await Wawrinka. Somehow, that’s doubtful. Magnus Norman, Wawrinka’s coach of more than a year, has trained Stan well, with most kudos surrounding the improvement in his mental capabilities.
“I never expected to win a Grand Slam,” Wawrinka told the press. “I never dream about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guys. I talk a lot with Magnus 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 win every point.”
Stanislas Wawrinka & His Norman Brooks Trophy. Melbourne, January 27
Tomorrow, as mentioned, Wawrinka will rise from No. 8 to No. 3 in the world. He will enter the big league, zipping past Roger Federer as the best their country can provide … at least for now.
“Roger is an amazing player and an amazing friend,” Stan said. “He always wants the best for me. Even if he lost, like in the U. S. Open, he was the first person to text me before my match and after. I didn’t call so many person, but my wife, my daughter, my sister, and Roger call me. I know that he’s really, really happy for me.”
Congratulations Stanislas Wawrinka, from everyone at Down The Tee.