It is a little over 4 years ago that Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 US Open. Since then, every tennis Grand Slam has been won by one of the big four men in the game. That jinx was broken on Sunday, when Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka defeated world’s no.1 men’s player, the irrepressible Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in one of the strangest final in the history of the Australian Open tournament. Nadal suffered from spasmodic pain in his lower back towards the end of the first set, required frequent medical attention and continued in the match with a sub-par game.
On Friday evening, before Nadal and Federer took the court for their semifinal match, one Spaniard and two Swiss guys were left in the fray to take the top spot in the men’s singles event. Going purely by mathematical probability, Switzerland held two chances out of three to take the men’s final trophy. While mathematics had nothing to do with Wawrinka’s victory at Melbourne Park on Sunday evening, he certainly deserved to be a worthy winner in the end.
Wawrinka had a great start with an early break of serve in the first set. Nadal was hitting well and there was no inkling of his injury, as the Spaniard played shots all over the court. But Wawrinka matched the brilliance of the world no. 1 and smacked winners at will, 12 in all in the first set. He had only one nervous moment. At 5-1, Nadal pushed him hard in the seventh game to earn three break points and the Swiss down 0-40 on his own serve. Recovering smartly, Wawrinka won the next 12 points in a row. Thus, he not only held his serve to win the first set in 37 minutes, but broke Nadal, without allowing him a single point on his serve in the second set and held his own to lead 2-0.
Then the complexion of the match changed completely and the hell broke loose. Nadal left the court for medical attention and didn’t come back for nearly seven minutes. Wawrinka had a heated exchange with the chair umpire and a tournament official about regulations on medical time-outs. He was seen visibly agitated at the delay caused on this account.
Finally, when Nadal came back, his service appeared to have lost the venom. He looked like a ghost of his usual self and when lost any points, he refused to react. He didn’t even mind losing his serve. Wawrinka too, looked out-of-rhythm, as he made frequent unforced errors. The Swiss allowed two points to the injured and almost tearful Nadal, before finally taking the second set 6-2. During the second set, Nadal summoned his Physio once again for further on-court treatment.
Considering that he stayed in the match, for the sake its completion, the result of the third set was amazing. It looked as if Nadal was not only fighting his pain but also staging a fight back. Maybe the painkillers had started showing the effect, as Nadal suddenly managed to enhance the speeds of his service. Meanwhile, with no need for a fierce fight, Wawrinka didn’t work too hard and the count of his unforced errors went up sharply. Despite sluggish movements on court, Nadal took the third set away from Wawrinka in a remarkable comeback. The wayward Wawrinka made 19 unforced errors and his game took a slump.
The fourth set was a test of Nadal’s remaining strength and Wawrinka’s nerves. The Swiss took the first service game and played shoddily to lose a chance of breaking Nadal’s service in the second game. However, he found the break with some better play in the sixth game and led 4-2. But the dogged Nadal broke right back to make it 4-3. At this point Wawrinka composed himself and broke Nadal once again. Now all he needed to do was, to hold his serve and claim the fourth set 6-3 and finish the match.
Once the match was over, Warwinka did something that was extraordinary for someone, who had just won his maiden Grand Slam. He curbed his inner instincts, suppressed his urge and didn’t celebrate his victory in the natural way. After the match, Nadal paid tribute to Wawrinka for his deserved victory and felt sorry that the final had to go, the way it did.
With curtains coming down on the two-week long first Tennis Grand Slam of the year, Warwinka will move to the career high no. 3 ranking, ahead of his famous compatriot Roger Federer. He couldn’t have asked for a better performance.