Midway through the third set, (former) Swiss no. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka began to have deep and agitated conversations. With himself. He screamed and cursed to nobody in particular, still irritated with Chair umpire Carlos Ramos. He asked his camp to keep their mouths shut, even though they weren’t really saying a word.
Magnus Norman, the former Swede player and now Wawrinka’s coach- also the man behind Soderling when he shocked Nadal in the 2009 French Open- smiled wryly. He looked at the others in his box, blinking his eyes as if to tell them, “Keep calm, let him get it out of his system. We’ve seen this earlier. He will be back.”
No pep talks, no signs of stress, nothing. Norman decided to just stare at his player blankly, while he conversed with thin air. Wawrinka went on to self-destruct and lose that 3rd set, playing one of the worst sets of tennis ever seen in a final. But that was preceded by, quite simply, the most stunning first set of tennis ever played against Rafael Nadal. Which, in itself, was quite an achievement. This was Rafa Nadal in full flight, atleast for the first 40 minutes. He was forced to go for more, change his strategies, panic and, eventually, push himself to another injury. As cruel as fate might have been for Nadal, it was as much the Swiss’ doing as his own body’s fault.
When Nadal took yet another medical time out at a crucial junction in the second set, just after being broken, cynical whispers did rounds of the internet. Of the Rod Laver stadium. They had seen this before. The Spaniard had always been tactical about his breaks. But, what they didn’t know was that, this time, Rafa Nadal was in real pain. He wasn’t crying wolf. The agony showed on his face, he clutched his back (far more genuine than a Murray backclutch), but carried on like a broken soldier. His serve barely made the net. He gave away the second set, after which Wawrinka began to go mental. Both players seemed to be playing at 20% for a while, for different reasons. It was not a pretty sight. It felt bizarre and strange to watch Nadal involved in such an emotional contest. He was in tears at most moments, but somehow found more strength during his service games. He was determined not to retire, like he had done so in 2011 against Murray- simply because this was a shot at another Slam title. If his body kept acting up like this, there wouldn’t be many more opportunities in the future, and he had to grab the moment and punish himself.
But there was a Swiss player on the other side of the net.
Nadal always fancies his chances against Swiss players, as many have learned. This Swiss player was 0-12 against Nadal in career stats before Sunday. Nadal was 23-10 against the other Swiss player, which made him 35-10 against the top Swiss players of his era. Those were intimidating numbers, especially for a man in his first Grand Slam final- only a few months after his first ever World Tour final, and his first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal. This was a massive leap in quality by someone who was supposed to end up as yet another journeyman male player who wasn’t good enough to break into the top 4 of his era.
In the end, new World no. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka defeated World no. 1 Rafael Nadal in the biggest shock of the tournament. Wawrinka won his 1st Grand Slam title at the age of 28, in his 35th Grand Slam. He also became the first player in 22 years to defeat the top 2 seeds at the Australian Open and go on to win the title. He also became the first EVER player to defeat both Djokovic and Nadal- the giants of modern tennis- in the same Grand Slam tournament, and end up as the winner. For the first time in his career, he is now ranked above Roger Federer- who dropped to 8 himself.
These were no empty numbers. The greatest part about Wawrinka becoming Australian Open Champion was his reaction as soon as he hit the winner. In a superb display of respect to his fallen injured comrade, who is also his close friend, Stan went ahead with extremely muted celebrations for a player winning his first ever major.
The man hadn’t even won a Masters tournament before this. Wawrinka remains unbeaten in 2014 after winning the Chennai Open and Australian Open, and will go into the remainder of the season as a heavy contender to win a few more titles. He has gained belief in himself, immense self confidence, after some tough close losses in 2013.