Following his victory over Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, most tennis pundits went ahead and pegged Rafael Nadal as the 2014 Australian Open Champion, despite the fact that he still had one match to win. And in his heart of hearts, Nadal's opponent, Stanislas Wawrinka, most likely held the same opinion. After all, Nadal had defeated the Swede in each of their last 12 matches. In fact, Wawrinka had not even won a set against Nadal during those contests. However, that would all change Sunday.
Nadal found himself in the finals of the Australian Open for the third time this Sunday, winning the title in 2009 and finishing second to Djokovic in 2012. While this record is not particularly noteworthy, Nadal has won 12 other Grand Slam titles in his career, placing him third on the all-time Grand Slam title list, one place behind Pete Sampras.
On the other hand, Wawrinka's best finish in a Grand Slam final before Sunday's Australian Open was a semifinal finish at the 2013 US Open.
However, despite his lack of Grand Slam success, Wawrinka had one hidden advantage in Sunday's contest - Nadal's Australian Open injury curse. As previously stated, Nadal has won 13 Grand Slam titles, only one of which came at the Australian Open. This stat is in large part due to the unfortunate luck Nadal has had at the Australian Open. In 2006, Nadal was forced to pull-out of the Australian Open with a foot injury. In 2010, Nadal's knees failed him in a match against Andy Murray, forcing the Spaniard to retire. In 2011, it was a strained leg muscle that forced Nadal out of competition. And in 2013, Nadal didn't even get a chance to compete due to recovering from illness and a knee injury.
This time around, it would be the upper-half of Nadal's body that would betray him. According to Nadal, he first noticed an issue with his back while warming up before Sunday's contest. Down 0-2 in the second set, Nadal reaggravated the injury and grabbed his lower back while grimacing in pain. Shortly following, Nadal requested a medical timeout that lasted for 7 minutes.
Surprisingly, fans started booing Nadal as he was being treated on the sidelines, apparently not understanding why the Spaniard was not on the court. While the boos rained down onto the court, Wawrinka was arguing with the chair umpire, demanding to know what was sidelining his opponent.
Perhaps it was this sudden out-pour of negativity toward him which inspired Nadal to come back to the court with a new plan of vengeance. While he was not 100% healthy, Nadal was able to take the 3rd set from Wawrinka through cunning shots which forced the Swede into many errors.
This surge of success would not last long, however. Wawrinka would quickly dispose of Nadal in the 4th set, 6-3, to secure his first Grand Slam victory. The match lasted a total of 2 hours and 21 minutes.
— Andrew Hickey (@andrewmhickey) January 26, 2014
Following the match, Wawrinka expressed his sympathies toward Nadal's misfortune: “Rafa, I’m really sorry for you, I hope your back is going to be fine, you’re a really great guy, good friend and really amazing champion.” Wawrinka would go on to add that “It’s really not the way you want to win a tennis match, but in a Grand Slam final I’ll take it.”
While Nadal was bitter concerning his defeat, his closing remarks displayed why he will eventually surpass Pete Sampras (and most likely Roger Federer as well) on the all time Grand Slam titles list: "At the end is a sport of victories. People remember the victories, don't remember the losses. For me is a tough one [against Wawrinka] because I felt that I was ready to compete well. But in a few weeks that's going to pass. I'm going to keep playing, going to keep training hard. A lot of people in the world have lot of very tough days. I am not this kind of person, so I feel very lucky.”
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