AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2014
High Stakes In Aussie Open Final For Nadal And Wawrinka
by Josh Meiseles|
Seven years ago, a precocious 20 year old named Rafael Nadal took to Rod Laver Arena to face an emerging star in Stanislas Wawrinka, in the third round of the 2007 Australian Open. In what would be the first of 12 encounters between the Spaniard and the Swiss, Nadal has dominated the FedEx ATP Head2Head, having yet to relinquish a set. Wawrinka, however, has made inroads in recent meetings, particularly on hard courts, and will be looking to play spoiler when they battle for the 2014 crown in Melbourne on Sunday.
This will undoubtedly be Wawrinka’s greatest challenge, but the Swiss is up to the test and is no stranger to pulling off the big upset on the big stage, less than a week removed from stunning three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in a pulsating quarter-final affair.
“I’m at the top of my career,” Wawrinka said. “Already last year I had the feeling that I was playing better, but I was dealing better with the pressure also. I’m more mature. I’m 28 now. I’m on the tour since 10 years. Now I feel that it’s my time to play my best tennis.”
After taking on Magnus Norman as coach last April, Wawrinka immediately began seeing results on the ATP World Tour. He triumphed on the clay in Oeiras and reached his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Madrid, falling to Nadal.
He has the belief of 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras in his corner, as well. “He's figured it out a little bit," Sampras said. "He’s got more confidence. He’s been in this situation a few times. He's stepping through that door.”
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When Nadal and Wawrinka duel for the Australian Open crown, it will be their third meeting on the Grand Slam stage, having also squared off in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2013. It will also be their third encounter in a tour-level final.
The stakes are as high as ever, with the World No. 1 looking to join elite company as the third player in history (Rod Laver and Roy Emerson) to win each major twice, while the eighth seed is eyeing his maiden Slam title. By reaching his 19th Grand Slam final, Nadal has joined Ivan Lendl in 2nd place on the all-time list of major final appearances and with a win on Sunday he will equal Sampras with 14 titles, tied for second-most in history.
Most Grand Slam Final Appearances
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Both competitors enter Sunday’s final with considerable momentum. Fresh off titles at the season-opening ATP World Tour tournaments in Doha and Chennai, Nadal and Wawrinka are a combined 20-0 in 2014 and are battle tested heading into their 13th meeting. Despite suffering from a blister on his racquet-wielding left hand, Nadal has fought valiantly this fortnight, surviving a Round of 16 offensive onslaught from 16th-seed Kei Nishikori and a four-set duel with rising star Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals. In the semis, the Spaniard fended off one of his fiercest rivals in Roger Federer, staving off an aggressive front from the Swiss.
Wawrinka, who is the first No. 8 seed to reach the final in Melbourne since Brian Teacher took home the trophy in 1980, is the seventh different opponent Nadal will face in a Grand Slam final.
Their most recent meeting was a tight encounter, won by Nadal 7-6(5), 7-6(6) in two hours and 13 minutes at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals late last year. An upset-minded Wawrinka will look to derive confidence and belief from that battle. The Swiss will already ascend to a career-high No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings regardless of the result, and would rise to No. 3 should he win the title.
A humble Nadal will not be taking Wawrinka lightly after his meteoric rise. “He's playing better than ever. Is not a question of winning one or two. Is a question that he's a player that is ready to win against everybody today. If I don't play my best tennis, I am sure that he will win three sets against me.”