Australian Open 2014: How Stanislas Wawrinka Can Stop Rafael Nadal

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Australian Open 2014: How Stanislas Wawrinka Can Stop Rafael Nadal
Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

Stanislas Wawrinka, who's headed into his first career Grand Slam final, has lived up to the words written on his arm: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

Wawrinka has not failed better, though—he has fared much, much better. And for the first time in his career, he will have a chance to play for a major title.

Samuel Beckett’s words have never found a more fitting home.

Standing in Wawrinka’s way is the most daunting opponent in the sport. Rafael Nadal is the last person you’d want to see on the other side of the net in a Grand Slam final, and everything points to a victory for the No. 1 seed.

Wawrinka is 0-12 against Nadal and has not taken a set off the Spaniard in any of their encounters.

To take home the trophy on Sunday, the No. 8 seed will unquestionably have to serve well. Luckily for Wawrinka, his serving performance has been steadily improving over the course of the tournament.

In his semifinal win over Tomas Berdych, Wawrinka won 82 percent of his first serves and served 18 aces to accompany 57 winners.

Often talked about, Wawrinka’s one-handed backhand is one of the best in the game, and it got him out of a number of jams—particularly the tiebreakers in the third and fourth sets—in his match against Berdych.

But to back it up, Wawrinka’s forehand has been just as valuable this tournament. In his quarterfinal match against Novak Djokovic, the Swiss hit 10 forehand winners to five backhand winners, producing fewer unforced errors off that side as well.

Ultimately, the key to a Wawrinka win on Sunday will come down to consistency off the ground, and playing strongly off both wings will be essential.

Wawrinka also has a coach who has turned his game around. Since teaming up with Magnus Norman last spring, Wawrinka has only continued to get better. In 2013, Wawrinka finished the year in the top 10 for the first time at No. 8, made his first Grand Slam semifinal appearance and won the most matches of any season to date (51).

“I like [Magnus’] vision of the game and how he works with me,” Wawrinka told Forbes’ Miguel Morales last week. “At this level of the game you don’t change a lot, you do a few little things here and there.”

There’s something poetically perfect about Norman sitting in Wawrinka’s camp on Sunday. When Robin Soderling upset Nadal at the French Open in 2009perhaps the greatest tennis upset in the last decadeNorman was in the Swede’s corner.

Finally, career trajectory cannot be discounted. The past 12 months have seen Wawrinka break through on a number of stages, and his first career win over Djokovic in the quarterfinals showed incredible tenacity and confidence.

The Swiss lost to Djokovic twice last season, twice in a Grand Slam and twice in five sets. That’s a mental blow most players wouldn’t recover from. What’s more, Wawrinka has shown steadiness in tight moments, along with unrelenting drive.

Make something of it he did.

Perhaps most importantly, Wawrinka believes he should be here.

“The most important is that my game is there,” he said after his semifinal victory over Berdych (as per Richard Hinds of The Daily Telegraph). “If I make the final here, it's because I beat Berdych tonight, (and) I won against Novak also. I had some great matches. So that means I have the level to be there.”

If there was ever a time for Wawrinka to break through, it’s now. This could be the Swiss’s second Vitas Gerulaitis moment of the tournament (he beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals for the first time in the last 14 tries).

Unfortunately, some people do beat Wawrinka 13 times in a row, but perhaps Sunday is his lucky No. 13 against Nadal.

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