To say that the 2014 Australian Open has been a tournament of surprises would be an understatement. Many of the top seeds bowed out against seemingly inferior opponents, and a number of unexpected players have established themselves as potential contenders moving forward.
A statement win doesn't always involve a lower seed beating a higher one, though. Sometimes a favorite has to go through an extremely difficult opponent in order to achieve their goal, and that is something that has been seen Down Under this year as well.
With that said, here is a closer look at the three biggest statement wins at the 2014 Aussie Open that will be remembered for a very long time to come.
Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer
With Novak Djokovic out of the picture, all of the pressure shifted toward No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal. Rafa got stuck in the difficult half of the draw containing Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, but as luck would have it, he would only have to face one of those men en route to the final. That, of course, was his longtime rival in Federer, who ultimately was decimated in a straight-sets triumph, according to SportsCenter.
Despite the fact that Federer is one of the greatest players of all time, he entered the tournament with plenty of uncertainty surrounding him. The 2013 season was his worst in a long time, so many were counting him out. Fed played some great tennis though as he took out the likes of Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In addition to that, Nadal had his struggles in the quarterfinals against Grigor Dimitrov, and the blister on his hand was clearly giving him issues, as seen in this photo courtesy of the Australian Open on Twitter.
None of those factors seemed to matter in the heat of the moment, though, as the Spanish superstar played his best tennis on Day 12. Nadal had half the unforced errors that Federer did, and he also won an incredible 73 percent of his second serves, which set him up for success. Nadal entered the match knowing what he was up against, and he rose to the occasion.
Nadal now has a date with Stanislas Wawrinka in the final against whom he'll be a heavy favorite. Rafa can't afford to sleep on Federer's Swiss countryman, but that shouldn't be an issue for a player who takes no match lightly.
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Maria Sharapova
Dominika Cibulkova has been lurking as a seeded player in the women's draw for quite some time, but she lacked signature victories in big tournaments. The Slovak has picked up a few of them en route to the Australian Open final this year, but the biggest unquestionably came against No. 3 Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
There is no question that Sharapova is still trying to find her game after dealing with injuries last year, but it was still a huge win for Cibulkova. Despite the fact that she is just 5'3", Cibulkova displayed surprising power against the much bigger Sharapova. Cibulkova's upset of Sharapova was compared to Ana Ivanovic's shocking win over Serena Williams, but Cibulkova said that she had plenty of confidence entering her match against Sharapova, according to the Associated Press.
"I was never doubting myself," Cibulkova said. "This was a different story. I already beat Maria before, and I beat her (at a Grand Slam tournament)."
That belief was huge as Cibulkova battled back after dropping the first set. Although Cibulkova had just 16 winners for the match, she was savvy enough to sit back and allow Sharapova to make mistakes. Sharapova ended up with 45 unforced errors for the match, and Cibulkova was the beneficiary. If Cibulkova goes on to win the Aussie Open title, her win over Sharapova may be viewed as the victory that helped elevate her to a championship level.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Novak Djokovic
Stanislas Wawrinka has seemingly been on the brink of joining the conversation regarding elite players for quite some time, but he was foiled by the "Big Four" time and time again. It was quite apparent that Wawrinka would have to score a big win over one of them in order to finally get noticed, and he did precisely that by beating three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Wawrinka and Djokovic played a classic one year earlier, but Djoker escaped that one with a victory. He wasn't quite so lucky this time around as the Swiss underdog persevered. Wawrinka benefited from serving first in the fifth set, and it allowed him to go all out for the win when Djokovic was on serve. As always, Djokovic showed great sportsmanship and gave Wawrinka the due credit that he deserved.
Wawrinka will have a chance to win his first Grand Slam title when he faces Nadal in the final, and while that may seem like an impossible task, most people said the same thing about beating Djokovic in Melbourne. That win had to give Wawrinka a world of confidence, which is half the battle when it comes to facing the world's top players. If his victory over Djokovic is any indication, Wawrinka may very well now be one of the world's best players in his own right.
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