Stanislas Wawrinka wins Australian Open men's singles title against ailing Rafael Nadal
Swiss claims first grand slam title in four sets 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Tearful Nadal apologies to fans: "Sorry to finish this way. I tried very, very hard."
Wawrinka: "It's quite crazy what's happening right now. I never expected to win a grand slam."
A grand slam finale that wasn’t supposed to be dramatic turned out to be one of the most memorable in recent history.
Here Stanislas Wawrinka was, in his first major final at the Australian Open, facing world No. 1 Rafael Nadal – who he had never even taken a set off in 12 previous matches.
Nadal looked sharp in disposing of Roger Federer in the semifinals and not many thought he wouldn’t complete the deal against the 17-time grand slam winner’s fellow Swiss, even if Wawrinka upset three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
But not for the first time in Melbourne, an injury to Nadal early in an encounter hampered the Spaniard and Wawrinka opened his grand slam account with a stunning 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory.
“Bad luck was against me today but you really deserved it so congratulations,” Nadal, wiping away tears, told the crowd post match in a scene reminiscent of Federer’s runner-up speech in 2009. “Sorry to finish this way. I tried very, very hard.”
But there was elation for Wawrinka.
“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now,” the 28-year-old told reporters later. “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.”
Federer complained about Nadal’s grunting Friday and when the 13-time grand slam winner received a time violation warning from chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the first game of the second set, some at Rod Laver Arena applauded.
That was simply the start of the spectacle.
Nadal clutched his back and called for the trainer going off court for treatment. When he returned, there were boos from some sections of the crowd, a rare, if almost unheard of, occurrence for Nadal.
“I can understand very well the reaction,” Nadal told reporters. “They understood later that I was (hurt).”
He said he injured the back in the warm-up and the condition worsened as the first set progressed.
“Then at the beginning of the second set was the key moment that I felt, during a serve … it was very stiff, very bad,” Nadal said.
“But it’s not the moment to talk about that. Stan is playing unbelievable.”
During the medical timeout, Wawrinka jawed with Ramos, demanding to know what the injury was – Ramos declined to tell the 28-year-old but tournament referee Wayne McKewen later obliged.
A distraught Nadal couldn’t help but cry – because of the injury – and with little on his serve, Wawrinka coasted to the second set.
Nadal must have flashed back to 2011 in Melbourne, when a leg injury sustained against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals ended his chances of achieving the “Rafa Slam” – four grand slam titles in succession. He missed last year’s tournament as he recovered from a knee injury.
“It’s true that I was not very lucky and this is a tournament that is painful for me,” said Nadal.
Such was the state of Nadal that a first retirement in a men’s grand slam final in 24 years appeared a distinct possibility.
“The last thing I wanted to do was retire,” said Nadal. “At the same time it’s tough to see yourself during the whole year working for a moment like this, and the moment arrives and you are not able to play at your best.”
Nadal didn’t call it quits, Wawrinka squandered break points in the opening game of the third and two more in the final game of the set. Nadal thereby maintained his streak of never losing a grand slam final in straight sets. Some consolation.
Fireworks to mark Australia Day erupted at about the same time, and soon chants of “Rafa, Rafa” filled the stadium. With Nadal, though, continuing to lack pace on his serve, Wawrinka broke for 5-3 and closed the match out with a winning forehand.
“It’s a final of a grand slam, so I’m really happy to win it,” said Wawrinka. “It’s not the way a tennis player wants to win a match – because the opponent is injured.
“Rafa is a really good friend. But when it happens, you have to take it. It’s maybe once in my life I will appear in a grand slam final.”
Not in 21 years had a men’s player ousted the top two seeds at a grand slam, Djokovic being the No. 2.
Nadal was thus deprived of a 14th major, which would have placed him joint second with Pete Sampras – he was at Rod Laver Arena to present the trophies – and three behind Federer on the men’s all-time list.
Nadal’s plight Sunday is sure to dominate the headlines but Wawrinka’s performance shouldn’t be forgotten.
With more oomph on his ground strokes now than Federer and earning free points on serve, nerves weren’t a factor in the first set.
“The Wawrinka we have now has nothing to do with the Wawrinka who lost 12 times to Rafa,” Patrick Mouratoglou, a Eurosport analyst and Serena Williams’ coach, told CNN. “He beat Djokovic and for sure this really changed something in his belief and ability to win a grand slam.
“And if you look at his game, he has so much more pace on his shots (than Federer), and that is so important against Rafa.”
Good fortune doesn’t hurt at a grand slam, and Nadal’s ailment, combined with Wawrinka’s opponent retiring in the first round and his foe in the third round pulling out altogether, aided him.
But Wawrinka – who took Djokovic to five sets in two majors last year – has become consistent under Swedish coach Magnus Norman and will rise to a career high No. 3 in the world when the new rankings are released, five spots better than Federer. Courtesy of Wawrinka, the Big Four stranglehold at grand slams this decade is over.
His talent is evident and his achievement will surely be applauded. On Sunday, however, it was Nadal who still commanded much of the attention.
Just not for the reasons we all thought.