The men's overall top seed has looked unbeatable at times en route to the men's championship, while eighth-seeded challenger Stanislas Wawrinka has been impressive in his own right, knocking off three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic on the journey to his first-ever major final.
While Rafa sets his sights on a 14th career Slam title, which would tie him with Pete Sampras for second-most all time, Wawrinka will look to open the new year with a bang by stunning the sports universe at Melbourne Park.
Nadal will be a heavy favorite to prevail as he's taken all 12 of their previous meetings, dating back to the 2007 Australian Open. What's more, Rafa hasn't dropped a single set to Wawrinka over the past seven years, dominating the top-ranked Swiss star over the course of their careers.
With the stage set for a "David vs. Goliath" matchup, let's take a look at what to watch for.
Date: Sunday, January 26, 2014
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. (local time), 3:30 a.m. ET
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park
Live Stream: WatchESPN
The body language of both players will be telling throughout the early stages of this final. If Nadal is able to win the first set and take the lead, Wawrinka's response on the court will be critical, but his reply in terms of body language will be telling for the rest of the match.
Will he hang his head at his chair or shake it off and come back better in the second set?
Wawrinka's body language will be much more significant than Nadal's, though, as he's never played in a Grand Slam final before and will be under more pressure to start fast.
If Rafa is able to take the wind out of Stan's sails early in the match and gain some confidence, you'll see it in his movement and his mannerisms as well.
If you're looking for some entertainment in between points, tracking the progression of both players' body language is a great way to get a feel for where the match is headed and what the result will be.
Will Stan Attack Rafa's Second Serve?
If Wawrinka is going to cap off his incredible run Down Under with a title, he absolutely must have success against Nadal's second serve.
In the semifinals, Roger Federer had no answer for it, winning just eight of 30 second-serve return points. To put Nadal's second-serve dominance into proper perspective, he won the same exact percentage of first-serve points (73 percent) as he did second-serve points.
Can this be right? Nadal is winning higher % of second serve points than first serve points? Come on….— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 24, 2014
Wawrinka played well on his second-serve return points against Tomas Berdych in the semis, winning 23 of 53 of those total points for the match, but he will need to be even more aggressive and, at times, lucky against Rafa if he's going to wreak havoc on the second-serve return.
Nadal isn't going to threaten with a ton of aces, but he's serving extremely well coming into the final, switching up his serves in the key moments and putting the ball in play with pace and direction. Nadal talked about his effective serving after taking out Federer in the semifinals, per Australian Open on Twitter:
#Nadal "The important thing for me is serve well, resist in beginning. I knew he'd come on court going for winners, taking ball early."— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2014
Given what we've seen from the Spaniard on serve thus far, Wawrinka will need to take some risks and attack the ball early on the second serve in order to force Nadal on his heels.
Who Will Deliver in Potential Tiebreak Scenario(s)?
Both Nadal and Wawrinka have played their fair share of tiebreaks through the first six rounds of action at Melbourne Park. But as the tournament's official Twitter account points out, both players have been clutch in the extra sessions thus far:
Consequently, it's difficult to say which player has the edge in a potential tiebreak. While Rafa's perfect record suggests he'd be the favorite, keep in mind that Wawrinka closed out Berdych with back-to-back tiebreak triumphs in the final two sets in the semifinals.
The first set seems the most likely to require a tiebreak. With both players still feeling out the match at that point, there's a strong potential that each will hold serve through the opening frame. In that case, the first set tiebreaker could turn out to be the turning point of the match.
A narrow opening-set victory for Wawrinka could propel him to the upset while a hard-fought first-set win for Nadal will likely put him on course to steamroll.
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