It was in many ways an awkward final to watch. First set: Wavrinka breaks early, plays well and hits the ball like a hammer. Still, Nadal gets three break points at 5-3. It seems like he’ll get back in the match. But Wavrinka shows his mental toughness, wins five straight points and takes the set 6-3. The match now seems wide open, but Rafa usually fights back.
First game of second set: Wavrinka breaks Nadal after some spellbinding shots. He holds for 2-0 and is playing the tennis of his life. In the third game Nadal seems to stretch his back, he manages to hold but at 2-1 to Wavrinka he goes for a medical timeout and leaves the court. Wavrinka gets very frustrated because he thinks it’s gamesmanship (disturb the Swiss’ rhythm) and demands from umpire Carlos Ramos to know why his opponent has left the court. The crowd who’s cheering for the underdog, starts booing at Rafa.
When Nadal comes back, he’s obviously affected, both by the booing and his bad back. He’s so stiff he can hardly hit a serve. Everyone sees the intense pain and disappointment in his face as he loses three straight games to go 1-5 down. Will he just play the set out and resign or is he looking to go the distance like he did when he lost to Ferrer in the quarterfinals a few years back? Nadal is as great a sportsman as they come, but it’s hard to see how he could play through the pain.
But everyone who plays tennis knows it’s tough to play an injured opponent. You feel pity and know he’s giving it far from a hundred percent, still you need to win the match. Wavrinka wins the set 6-2. He’s now up two sets to none against a visibly injured Nadal. Surely it’s over?
Then something happens. Painkillers kick in. Rafa starts hitting freely and suddenly moves a bit better. Wavrinka has completely lost his focus. He’s hitting most of his shots out. Out of nowhere, Rafa manages to win the set with 50-70% service speed. It’s mostly that Wavrinka’s insanely high level has gone down.
Fourth set starts and they hold serve until Wavrinka manages to re-compose himself. Then he breaks at 4-2. Surely the match is over? No. Nadal breaks back to love to 3-4. You start to wonder – what happens if Nadal wins this match after all the drama? It’s not impossible knowing how great a fighter he is. But Wavrinka is back to his ways of the first set and breaks Nadal’s serve again. He puts his finger to his forehead to show: “I’m here to win this. I’m mentally capable and I’m never going to let victory out of my sight.”
He serves for his first Grand Slam title and he doesn’t let it slide. He wins 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 and moves up to world number 3. Rightfully so.
The audience compensates for their previous booing with a standing ovation for Nadal during the price ceremony. With tears in his eyes he says: ‘Sorry to finish this way but I tried very very hard’.
And it’s true – no one tries harder than Rafael Nadal and it’s a shame that his body is sometimes his biggest opponent. But even a fully fit Nadal would have had problems with the Stanislas Wavrinka today and for that he’s a deserving Australian Open Grand Slam Champion.
Congrats Stan! And congrats Rafa for again showing the world what an incredible fighter and champion you are.
Isn’t tennis great?