Despite the world’s No. 1 men’s tennis player Rafael Nadal hurting his back during the match, Stanislas Wawrinka earned his first Grand Slam title by winning the championship round of the 2014 Australian Open, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Wawrinka has cemented his elite status with his major victory.
At 28 years old, Wawrinka has been looking for the breakout moment needed to launch him into the upper echelon of the sport. Making it to the final of this tournament was an incredibly impressive feat—especially after beating defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals—but meeting Nadal in the championship round was the worst possible matchup.
Before the men’s final on Jan. 26, Wawrinka was 0-12 against Nadal and had lost all 26 sets, per Greg Garber of ESPN.com.
Even with an overwhelming challenge, Wawrinka spoke to Ben Sutton of Sporting News before the championship about his confidence level heading into what was unquestionably the biggest match of his life:
The record is not what I'm looking. That's what is it against Rafa. I don't care about having lost 14 times, I think. But it's more about playing Rafa. He's the No. 1, the best player. His game is quite tough for me, especially with one hand backhand. But I did some good match last year against him, close one. I find few things that I will try tomorrow (Sunday). Again, I'm playing my best tennis here; physically I'm ready. I had two days off, so that's perfect for me before (the) final. (I'm) going to try everything. Before to beat Djokovic was the same. I was losing 13, 14 times before that. Just the fact that I'm always trying and I always think that I can change all the statistic, that's positive.
Not only was this the first Grand Slam victory of Wawrinka’s career, but this was also his first appearance in the final of a major tournament in his career, topping his previous best of reaching the semifinals in the 2013 U.S. Open.
For many players, it takes a long time to figure out exactly what kind of commitment it takes on and off the court to become a top-tier athlete in the sport, but the recent success of Wawrinka proves that he has found his rhythm.
After the strongest year of his career during the 2013 season, the Swiss superstar won the Aircel Chennai Open to kick off 2014 and built serious momentum and confidence heading into the Australian Open.
It’s obvious that the groove he found is working for him.
While many fans will look to Nadal’s injury as the reason Wawrinka was able to win, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The underdog looked stronger serving the ball and was a menace along the baseline, winning the first set before Nadal was ever injured.
As well as Wawrinka played, the reason he launched himself into the upper echelon was his killer instinct. Instead of taking his foot off the throttle when Nadal was injured, the Swiss player went full steam ahead and took down his foe in merciless fashion.
The convincing win should answer all doubts and has proven that Wawrinka is an elite player.