Although these are certainly not the finals we were expecting when the tournament began, the Australian Open has two very exciting singles matches remaining.
With big names like Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray going down in earlier rounds, fans are left with more of an underdog story, as two challengers are looking for the first Grand Slam titles of their careers.
Stanislas Wawrinka will try to win in his first Slam finals appearance against Rafael Nadal, who has been nothing short of dominant lately. On the women's side, Li Na will try to avoid an upset against Dominika Cibulkova in the final.
Each battle will have its own twists and turns, and here are previews and predictions for both.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka
Wawrinka has had an impressive run to reach the finals at Melbourne. Not only did he defeat tough competitors like Tommy Robredo and Tomas Berdych along the way, but he also upset Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, ending his run of Australian Open titles at three.
However, he has an even bigger challenge ahead of him. Nadal has been seemingly unstoppable over the past year, winning 11 titles since returning from a knee injury early in 2013 and posting an 86-7 record in that time, including the current tournament.
One more win would make him the second player ever to win every Grand Slam event twice in his career. Rod Laver was the only one to accomplish that feat.
Additionally, Wawrinka has one other factor that should scare him: his past results against Nadal. ESPN's Chris McKendry provided the details:
Nadal is 12-0 vs Wawrinka... Has won 26 straight sets.— Chris McKendry (@CMCKENDRY_ESPN) January 24, 2014
The Swiss star has never been able to get started against this opponent, and Nadal's defensive nature seems to completely shut down Wawrinka.
On the other hand, the Spaniard expressed his admiration for the player he will face in the finals, via ATPWorldTour.com:
He's serving unbelievable. He's hitting the ball very strong from the baseline. He is very, very quick. I know it will be a very, very tough match. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have chances because he's coming into this match with a lot of victories and playing great.
It is true that if Nadal is playing poorly, it will provide an opportunity for an upset. Wawrinka has been dominant on his first serve in this tournament, winning at least 72 percent in every match. Against Robredo in Round 4, he won a ridiculous 54 of 60 points.
Unfortunately for the Swiss, the chances of Nadal struggling are not good. He continues to show the ability to get to almost every ball on the court, which was on display in full force against Roger Federer in the semifinals:
Wawrinka will be left with fewer winners, and he will eventually fall to Nadal in four sets.
Prediction: Nadal wins 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2
No. 4 Li Na vs. No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova
The first thing you notice about Dominika Cibulkova is her height. At 5'3", she would tie for the shortest player ever to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era if she is able to come away with a victory in this match.
However, she explained that this does not affect her, via Ravi Ubha of CNN: "It's not about how tall you are. It's just you have to really believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."
As tennis analyst Brad Gilbert noted, she makes up for her size with her power:
Thought this match would verly tight was not expecting Cibulkova to take Halep to the woodshed, DC has amazing power for 5'1— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 22, 2014
Li Na also has power, but she does not always fare well against opponents who can hit the ball hard. This has hurt her at the highest levels of the sport.
In fact, this will be her third finals appearance at the Australian Open in the last four years, but she has yet to win a title.
Li could end up struggling against Cibulkova's serve, which is not only strong but accurate. She finds a way to get her first serve in play and makes things happen off that. While she does not get many aces, she makes up for it with her action at the net.
If the Slovakian star can avoid mistakes, she can earn the advantage in this matchup and come away with the first title of her career.
Prediction: Cibulkova wins, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
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