Of the four players vying for the 2014 Australian Open championship, only Rafael Nadal is figured to still be alive in the final on the men or women's side. Nadal and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic seemed to be on a collision course. However, Stanislas Wawrinka had other ideas.
The 28-year-old from Switzerland knocked off Djokovic in the quarterfinals and powered through Tomas Berdych in the semifinals to reach the final two.
Instead, we have an intriguing final pitting No. 4 seed Li Na against No. 20 seed Dominika Cibulkova. Na beat upstart Eugenie Bouchard to reach the final, while Cibulkova handled No. 5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
Cibulkova won just four Grand Slam matches in 2013. She has certainly begun 2014 confidently. After her triumph in the semifinals, she said this to Melissa Isaacson of ESPN.com:
It's different. This was [a] semifinal of the Grand Slam, so it's [a] big thing. You have to be 100 percent sure you can do it. Today I was doing everything right. I was going for my shots. I was just doing everything perfect. Maybe she was more nervous. You never know.
Who wins the title on the men and women's side?
The Women's Final
Both Na and Cibulkova have been dominant in the tournament. They have dropped just one set apiece thus far. Cibulkova's only anxious moment came against No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
Na lost a set against Lucie Safarova in the third round. She fought off match point to come back and win. Cibulkova hasn't had to handle that type of adversity in this year's tournament.
Both women are agile players who depend on their speed and court coverage. It could very well be a thrilling match to watch.
Na has won the four previous meetings with Cibulkova, though the last two have featured a tiebreaker. Cibulkova has still only managed to win one set in the series.
While Cibulkova may be one of the game's up-and-coming stars at 24 years old, Na's experience should land her a second Grand Slam championship on Saturday.
The Men's Final
Rafael Nadal has been a machine throughout the tournament. He has dropped just one set in Melbourne, and he looked in top form against old rival Roger Federer in the semifinals.
Wawrinka is the lovable underdog here. He outlasted Djokovic in an epic five-set battle, and then won two tiebreakers against Berdych to reach the final. Merlisa Lawrence Corbett of Bleacher Report talks about how Wawrinka's status as a "lovable loser" has endeared him to fans:
We wanted so badly for him to finally win one. Even those who delight in the antics of the Road Runner, deep down long for Wile E. Coyote to have his day.
After losing 14 straight to his nemesis and playing the role of perennial also-ran, Wawrinka finally solved the Djokovic problem. With his win, he also lifted fans from the frustrating feeling of watching him as a lovable loser.
Nadal is not going to be sentimental. He's a perfect 12-0 against Wawrinka in their career meetings. Though Wawrinka overcame a similar history against Djokovic, Nadal has looked bulletproof.
Chalk up another Grand Slam for Rafa on Sunday.
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