First, Novak Djokovic. Then, Rafael Nadal. The world's best two players stood in front of Stanislas Wawrinka, but nothing nor no one could stop him from finally capturing his elusive first Grand Slam at the 2014 Australian Open.
Wawrinka's journey concluded Sunday afternoon (Jan. 26) in Melbourne, as he sent shock waves through the tennis world in a dominating 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 triumph over the world's top-ranked player at Rod Laver Arena.
In more than one way, the victory was a long time coming for the Swiss. At age 28, he became the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion since Goran Ivanisevic in 2001. Wawrinka also ended a 12-match losing streak against the Spaniard and will become the top-ranked Swiss for the first time in his career, surpassing Roger Federer, who lost to Nadal in the semis.
As is typical, the men's final overshadowed the rest of the proceedings in Melbourne. Earlier Sunday, Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic defeated Sania Mirza and Horia Tecau 6-3, 6-2 in the mixed doubles final to capture their second Grand Slam as a pair. Nestor had also reached the semifinals in the men's doubles with partner Nenad Zimonjic.
His and Mladenovic's run was still a bit of a surprise, however, as they were not seeded despite a 2013 Wimbledon championship. Nestor, 41, now has 12 Grand Slam championships as a doubles player and has been a great mentor to the 20-year-old Mladenovic.
With that in mind, let's check in with an in-depth breakdown of both the mixed doubles and men's finals as the year's first major closes up shop.
Wawrinka Bucks History vs. Injured Nadal
No matter the rightful praising of Wawrinka, the overarching storyline will center on Nadal's back and the severity of his injury.
Down a set following a raucous Wawrinka performance in the first, Nadal called for a medical timeout while in obvious pain. He received attention for what appeared to be a back injury—the severity of which is still unknown—but refused to retire, despite his power and movement obviously being affected.
"I felt a little bit (with the back) from warmup...and then I started to feel worse," Nadal said, via USA Today's . "I tried hard. The last thing I wanted to do was retirement. I hate to do that, especially in the final."
Undeterred by the delay, Wawrinka captured the second set and did not take his foot off the gas pedal for a second. The Swiss, perhaps sensing that this was his last best chance at a major championship, turned up the head on his serve and moved to overpower Nadal in the way he had Djokovic. Working through every set in less than 40 minutes, Wawrinka scored 19 aces and won on a whopping 87 percent of his first serves.
It was the opposite story for Nadal, whose back seemed to weaken with every torque. Nadal's serve dipped from triple-digits in the first set and became little bit a lob at certain points. Ricky Dimon at one point noted Nadal's serve was so slow Wawrinka couldn't help but mishit it:
Nadal hits 55 mph serve. Wawrinka answers by shanking it all the way to New Zealand. #Reusable— Ricky Dimon (@RD_Tennistalk) January 26, 2014
A dominant 6-2 second gave way to the third, at which point it looked obvious that Wawrinka was playing only against himself. But, in true champion's fashion, Nadal refused to give up when the opportunity presented itself. He found his form a bit on serves, winning 89 percent of first-serve tries in the set, and then watched Wawrinka shoot himself in the foot to the tune of 19 unforced errors.
Though improbable, Nadal could have set the stage for a historic comeback. Looking to become the first player of the Open Era to win each Grand Slam multiple times, there was certainly plenty incentive for the Spaniard. And that's to mention nothing of the redemptive quality of winning at Melbourne, the Slam he lost a season ago as he recovered from career-threatening knee injuries.
It's uncertain what could have happened in a different world. But, with his tournament on the line, it was clear that Nadal will blame his failing body once more for losing in a major. Wawrinka, rising to the occasion as Nadal attempted to raise his game, broke his top-seeded foe twice in the deciding set, finishing off quite the journey of his own.
"Last year I had a crazy match (to Djokovic). I lost it. I was crying a lot after the match," Wawrinka said at the trophy ceremony. "Right now I don't know if I'm dreaming or not, but we'll see tomorrow morning."
It was neither a dream nor should this victory have been all that shocking. Wawrinka, powerful but flawed for most of his career, started finding his balance last year. It started in Melbourne, where as a No. 15 seed he pushed Djokovic to a five-set thriller. Then he made his first French quarters and first U.S. Open semis all in the same season, setting the stage for Sunday.
The journey may have taken longer for Wawrinka, but I'm sure he thinks it's worth it following this run.
Nestor and Mladenovic Dominate
Earlier in the day, it was pure domination for Nestor and Mladenovic. The duo, separated by 21 years in age, played like a well-oiled machine in their straight-sets win over Mirza and Tecau. They won 79 percent of their first-serve points, avoided breaks five different times and turned the match on a dime with key return points of their own.
The match took all of 58 minutes, despite relatively clean play from Mirza and Tecau. The pair, who had previously won mixed doubles titles with other partners at Melbourne before joining forces, made only eight unforced errors to the victors' 14 and exuded a nice chemistry on the court.
But the combination of Nestor's experience and Mladenovic's youthful power proved far too much to handle.
“We've been playing our best tennis here," Nestor said, via the Australian Open's official site. "It's great to win this title. I have what I believe is the best partner in mixed. Kristina helps me out and I have to cover less of the court. That's good at my age."
The age difference has become a source of good-natured ribbing for Nestor and Mladenovic, who are starting to make a name for themselves in mixed doubles. In addition to the Wimbledon title, they were the runner up at last year's French Open. Nestor has even jokingly said his new stated goal was to win the Grand Slam in one season with Mladenovic by his side.
(I was) half-joking. I always tell my friends my best chance of winning Grand Slams nowadays are in mixed … But obviously I'd still like to win men's doubles titles, too. You know, I think I have a good partner in that, too. I just think this is the best chance, but I'll keep playing both and hopefully good will come out of it.
With the way they ran through the Australian field, winning each match in straight sets and rarely breaking a sweat, it's not all that crazy a goal. Mixed doubles is typically less fierce than men's or women's side, as unseeded pairs often make surprising runs deep into the tournament.
Nestor's advanced age and Mladenovic's still-developing singles career probably prevent the duo from becoming a long-term monolith. Yet it's starting to look like they will be a force to be reckoned with throughout 2014.
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