Rafael Nadal made the 2014 Australian Open final by defeating Roger Federer, perhaps ending one of the most storied rivalries in tennis history. With one more victory, Nadal will continue making history by becoming the first player in the Open Era to win each Grand Slam multiple times.
Standing in his way is another Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, who will be making his first appearance in a Slam final. Wawrinka's path to the finals was arguably even more notable than Nadal's, as he defeated three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and then took down Tomas Berdych in four sets to advance.
While the Swiss' ascent is a little unorthodox—rarely do players make their first final at such a relatively advanced age—it's quietly been in the making for a while. Wawrinka made the quarters at the French Open and the semis at the U.S. Open, and his power game has always meshed well with hard-court play. The talent has always been there; now he'll finally have the opportunity.
As for Nadal, this is merely an additional piece of world domination. The world No. 1 captured his first season-opening win at Doha earlier this month and seems to have rounded back into form after a quiet, shrug-worthy run after his U.S. Open triumph. This will be the second time Nadal has faced Wawrinka at the Australian Open, the first coming seven years ago in a straight-sets triumph for the Spaniard.
Expectations are that Nadal will do the same Sunday. But considering how well Wawrinka has been playing, no result is totally out of question. With that in mind, here's a quick look at how you can watch the 2014 Australian Open final.
Where: Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia
When: 3 a.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 26
Live Stream: WatchESPN
For Wawrinka, this match could become a career-defining moment. Few—OK, pretty much no one out of the Wawrinka family—expect him to win. And considering his lack of success against Nadal in the past, that's a pretty good bet. Nadal has defeated Wawrinka in each of their first 12 matches against one another, all of which came in straight sets.
With Nadal playing the best tennis of his life at the moment, we're looking at slightly better than 1980 U.S. hockey odds in the eyes of most experts. But after defeating Novak Djokovic—the ayatollah of Down Under tennis—Wawrinka thinks his odds are better than the all-time record is letting on.
"I'm playing my best tennis here, physically I'm ready," Wawrinka said, per Eleanor Crooks of The Independent. "I had two days off, so that's perfect for me before the final. I'm going to try everything. Before beating Djokovic it was the same. Just the fact that I'm always trying and I always think that I can change the statistics, that's positive."
Defeating Djokovic in and of itself gives that statement validity. Djokovic, it almost goes without saying, was a monolith in Australia. The second-ranked Serb was playing some of the best tennis of his life, entering Tuesday's quarterfinal with a 25-match winning streak at the Australian and 28-match winning streak overall. There were no signs of injury in the five-set thriller; Wawrinka just outlasted the world's best hard-court player.
While Djokovic and Nadal are different players, Wawrinka's path to victory remains the same. He has to serve really, really well. Versus Djoker, he hit 17 aces, won nearly three quarters of his first serves and played with a fierce aggression. His five double faults would be concerning had they not been a part of an all-out plan to leave everything he had on the court.
Djokovic had defeated Wawrinka 14 straight times heading into their match. Nadal only has a 12-match advantage and is dealing with an ugly blister, although it didn't affect him against Federer. It's at least possible that Wawrinka does the unthinkable and pulls off an upset.
Still, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge just how brilliantly Nadal is playing at this point. His defeat of Federer was not just a victory—it was an absolute destruction. After a somewhat competitive first set, Nadal ran the all-time Grand Slams leader out three and three, barely breaking a sweat. No matter what Federer did, Nadal just covered the court so well that it looked like no one on the planet could beat him at that point.
Suffice it to say, Wawrinka will have his work cut out for him.
So...you're saying there's a chance? Sure. There is a chance that Wawrinka pulls off one of the more unthinkable major championships in recent memory, running through the world's two best players en route to his first Slam at age 28. I mean, he's already on the precipice of eclipsing Federer as the top-ranked Swiss in the world.
Why not a storybook ending?
More specifically, because Nadal is the best player in the world, so head-and-shoulders better than anyone else that it's laughable. It's astounding to sit here and remember where Nadal was at last year's Australian Open: sitting at home, his career up in the air. While it feels like you have to knock on the proverbial wood to make sure Nadal gets through each match unscathed, picking against a healthy version of the Spaniard just doesn't feel possible.
Wawrinka is playing great tennis. Perhaps he'll win a set and make things interesting. For the sake of the oft-forgotten Grand Slam, I hope he does. Li Na didn't exactly help excitement matters in her destruction of Dominika Cibulkova. It's better for all involved if Nadal-Wawrinka turns into this five-set thriller we discuss as a match-of-the-year candidate.
Just don't expect it. Because Nadal.
Score: Rafael Nadal def. Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5, 6-4
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