After two weeks of action packed tennis, involving some incredible upsets and stunning victories, we are down to just two men from a field of 128. The men’s singles finals for the 2014 Australian Open Championships will be played between top seed and world no.1 Rafael Nadal and newly promoted Swiss no.1 Stanislas Wawrinka.
Before delving into the statistical aspects of this match, it is important to note that both men have had their best ever start to a season in their respective careers (Wawrinka won the ATP 250 warm up tournament, Chennai Open, while Nadal won a similar event in Doha), both men have had to come off some really tough matches and they are also currently, in the form of their life.
Unfortunately, for Wawrinka, the similarities end there. When he steps on court on Sunday evening, in Rod Laver Arena, he will not only be playing in his first grand slam final (compared to Nadal’s 19th), but will also play an opponent who has beaten him in all 12 of their previous encounters, and has won all 26 sets they’ve contested so far.
But, Wawrinka is not one to be intimidated, as was evident in his phenomenal victory over Novak Djokovic in a 5 set thriller in the quarterfinals. After two heartbreaks against the Serb at the Australian Open and the US Open last year, he ensured he was not to be denied the third time. With these words etched on his forearm – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”, he has been a man on a mission – to defy all odds, and it has certainly borne fruit for him so far.
Nadal, on the other hand, has had his share of worries, in spite of his form – he was stretched against Kei Nishikori and lost a set against Grigor Dimitrov. He has a nasty blister on his palm which doesn’t seem to be going any time soon, but as always he’s faced adversity the only way he knows- wtih will power, mental fortitude and resilience.
Against Roger Federer in the semifinals, he was back to his near best. “I played great”, said Nadal of the match.
Wawrinka’s single handed backhand could be his biggest weakness, as much as it is his strength, going into this encounter. While he has been firing with his backhands and powerful stroke play, it is this very backhand which has been his Achilles heel when he plays Nadal. Nadal will take full advantage of this aspect, and, as against Federer, will attack it like a battering ram. The high top spin ball is one of the most vicious shots in tennis today, and is especially difficult to counter with a single handed backhand.
Where Wawrinka can make a mark, is by using his first serves effectively to keep the points short and try and move Nadal out of his comfort zone, in the baseline. While this is easier said than done, there is no other option to beat Nadal, than play brave aggressive tennis and not back down, even if mistakes creep in.
While this match is hugely important for Wawrinka, he doesn’t have the pressure and weight of expectations which Nadal has. Nadal, if he wins the Open, would be one among only three players in tennis history to have won each major at least twice. He will also be the first player in the Open era to do so. Nadal’s victory would also tie him with Pete Sampras’s major record haul of 14 majors, something which was believed to be unimaginable to be equaled/crossed a mere ten years ago. He will then be only 3 majors behind Roger Federer. With his record at the French Open, that number suddenly seems a real possibility, unless Federer adds to his tally again.
This victory would go a long way in cementing Nadal’s legacy. With 4 hard court slams, and two slams in Wimbledon, along with his humongous 8 at Roland Garros, his status of being an all court player would be further solidified.
In spite Stan’s terrific tournament, in all probability, the buck stops here. Unless Stan is able to play incredibly pressing tennis and suffocates Nadal from playing his game for the best part of 3 sets, this match will swing Nadal’s way.
Prediction: Nadal in 3 sets.