Stanislas Wawrinka earned himself a hard-fought upset win over the injury-ridden Rafael Nadal in his first-ever Grand Slam finals appearance at the 2014 Australian Open. While the injury certainly slowed Nadal down a bit, Wawrinka should be given all the credit for defeating one of the best players that the sport has ever seen.
The deck seemed to be stacked against Wawrinka entering the final. Nadal was 12-0 all time against the Swiss player, per ESPN's SportsCenter Twitter account:
Rafael Nadal was 12-0 against Stanilas Wawrinka heading into the #AusOpen2014 final. He's now 12-1.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 26, 2014
Better yet, Nadal was 13-5 all time in Grand Slam finals prior to running into Wawrinka (via the same account):
Rafael Nadal drops to 13-6 all time in Grand Slam Finals.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 26, 2014
Wawrinka is far from the player Nadal is, though that isn't an insult. Nadal is in another league compared to 90 percent of his men's competition in the tennis world. That being said, he was clearly bested by Wawrinka—and it wasn't just because he was fighting off a back injury during the match.
During the second set, Nadal was forced to take a medical timeout to get his back checked out. Many wondered if if would lead him to retire from the match. The Spaniard fought hard to come back, however, and his play really wasn't that bad considering he was hampered by visible pain.
Wawrinka had won the first set, 6-3, and was upset that Nadal was taking a timeout after going down in the second set. This forced him to come out strong after the break and finish off the second set.
Going up two sets against one of the top players in the world is enough to put pressure on anybody. This is where Wawrinka began to show why he deserved the title.
He dropped the third set, 3-6, as the unforced errors began to pile up. The pressures of playing in a match of such a magnitude for the first time were clearly starting to get to him. Throw in the fact that it was against a hobbled Nadal with the chance to put him away, and the pressures seemed to keep building.
Still, the Swiss ended up taking the fourth set, 6-3, to hold off a potential Nadal comeback.
Nadal showed great resilience, despite being clearly effected by the sharp pains in his back during the match. He fought through it, not sacrificing much speed or strength in his returns. As all great players should, Nadal was able to capitalize on Wawrinka's mistakes when the opportunities presented themselves.
That's why Wawrinka's win deserves all the more credit. He did not back down against Nadal. With emotions running high after the medical timeout in the second set, Wawrinka easily could have lost his cool—especially considering the fact that he had never been on this stage before. Instead, he channeled that energy and finished off the set.
Sure, that energy wrongfully carried over into set No. 3, therefore causing far too many errors, but he collected himself for the fourth and final set.
The Associated Press' John Pye (h/t Yahoo! Sports) examined what the win will do for Wawrinka's now promising career, writing, "Now he'll move from No. 8 to No. 3. In doing so, he'll surpass Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam winner who lost to Nadal in the semifinals - to become the highest-ranked Swiss player for the first time in his career."
Such a jump in the world rankings is enough to make Wawrinka a player to watch moving forward. It also means he has a target on his head now, though, as some of the world's best will be itching for a shot at taking him down.
Will Wawrinka continue to be a threat to the sport's top talents?
His quick rise up the ranks comes just a year after he was emotionally torn at the 2013 Australian Open. His first comments after accepting the tournament trophy were both humble and reminiscent, via Pye:
Rafa, I'm really sorry for you, I hope your back is going to be fine, you're a really great guy, good friend and really amazing champion. Last year I had a crazy match, I lost it. I was crying a lot after the match. But in one year a lot happened - I still don't know if I'm dreaming or not but we'll see tomorrow morning.
If you take away anything from the 2014 Australian Open final, it should be that Wawrinka deserved to win. Even a 100 percent healthy Nadal would have had trouble taking down the emotion and motivation of the now-No. 3 player in the world.