Two weeks of tennis feast down under comes to a close with the ultimate battle of grit and strength in the men’s singles final featuring very familiar face in the world no.1 Rafael Nadal and the resurgent, soon to be Swiss no.1 Stanislas Wawrinka in the night session of the Australia’s day on Rod Laver Arena.
This match up is more than a fascinating contest if all the H2H and individual records are not considered. Unfortunately, Stan-The-Man has to deal with his 26 set losses in 12 previous meetings with Rafa coming into the final. But Wawrinka has been magnificent on tour since he appointed Magnus Norman as the coach that saw him achieve the career best ranking of no.8 last year.
Both players have started their season with tremendous form in winning their respective warm up tournaments in Chennai and Doha. With their unbeaten streaks, it’s a deserving place to be in the final of the first major of 2014.
Let’s break down the game of individual players so far.
The Swiss didn’t compete all six matches in his run to the final, thanks to the retirement of his first round opponent in the opening set and withdrawal of the Canadian Vasek Pospisil from the tournament with injury prior to the third round clash which gave him a walkover to the R16. In the rest of the matches played, he survived the test of the Colombia’s Alejandro Falla and the Spaniard Tommy Robredo on his way to the quarters with the loss of one set in a tiebreaker. Then came the historic match against the four times champion Novak Djokovic which saw him record one of the best wins of his career. He consolidated it beating Tomas Berdych in a high quality service battle in the semifinal. During the course of these matches, Wawrinka was solid on his serve and the play from back of the court. His biggest weapon is the single handed backhand which is best in the business. It would be interesting to watch how he uses it against the wicked top spin of Nadal which often caused lot of damage to the fellow single handed backhand player and his campatriot Federer over the years.
After a memorable 2013, Rafa started his campaign with a title win leading to the Happy Slam, which he has never done before in his illustrious career. Though he hasn’t played the best tennis so far, he found a way to come out on top every time. That’s the credential of a champion. It must be said that he hit the top gear at the right moment with the demolition of his great rival Roger Federer in the semifinals. That should be a great confidence boost facing Wawrinka in the final. Rafa was supposed to face a stern challenge of the Australian Bernard Tomic in the first round, but it ended in a dramatic way as the Aussie retired with groin pain after losing the opening set. In the next match, he dealt with another local teenager with a satisfying victory. He followed it up with some exhibition kind of stuff against the former top ten player Gael Monfils which is his best performance in the open so far. In the fourth round he struggled against the talented Kei Nishikori dropping the serve first time in the tournament, but he managed to win it in straight sets. In the quarters, he was highly outclassed by the Bulgarian Dimitrov for a better part of the match, which Rafa won in four sets including two tiebreakers in the second and third sets. It was not a great sign for him to play Federer in semis who was on song with his game. But the history clearly behind him, Rafa dominated well to reach his 19th major final. If there is any concern for Nadal, it’s the blister on the left palm that has hardly troubled him in the semifinals.
A rare piece of history awaits Nadal as he attempts to join the league of Australian legends Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to win every major at least twice. It also draws him to share the common second place on all-time major winners list with Pete Sampras (14) and takes him within the reach of the record 17 titles held by the Swiss maestro Roger Federer. On the other hand, playing in his first ever major final Stan Wawrinka looks to make it count in this golden era of tennis to become the first man outside of the big four since Juan Martin Del Potro to win a major.
Keeping the form and fitness in mind, I must say that it’s Stan Wawrinka with a slight edge (51%) to lift the silverware on the Sunday night in Melbourne park. Winning in four sets has to be the best bet for Wawrinka. But Rafa’s chances increase if the match goes as long as five sets.
Story of the tournament:
Besides, one of the finalists Wawrinka, if there is any inspirational story it has to be the Bulgarian 22-year old star Grigor Dimitrov. He finally came out of the weight of expectations to justify his infamous ‘Baby Fed’ tag and made a surprise run to the quarters including a four set victory over his rival to be in future and the top Canadian Milos Raonic and Del Potro slayer Robert Bautista Agut before losing to the Spaniard Nadal.