Nadal vs. Wawrinka: Where Australian Open Final Stands Among Grand Slam Upsets

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Nadal vs. Wawrinka: Where Australian Open Final Stands Among Grand Slam Upsets
Matt King/Getty Images

By knocking off the top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final, Stanislas Wawrinka etched his place in tennis folklore by garnering a major upset. 

It's not every day we see a major underdog pull off an upset in a men's tennis Grand Slam. In fact, it's virtually never. Over the past decade, the sport's top stars have held a near monopoly on title victories.

Heading into the final match at Melbourne, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray had won the last 16 majors. That changed when Wawrinka fended off Nadal in four sets to emerge victorious in his first Grand Slam appearance.

Going back even further, one of those four men (although Murray only accounts for two titles) finished first in 34 of the past 35 Grand Slams. Wawrinka became one of four men outside of that distinct club to win a major since 2004.

With that said, upsets are hardly the norm, so an eighth-seeded player besting the No. 1 star is a David and Goliath tale worth glorifying. Wawrinka represents the lowest-seeded winner since No. 17 Pete Sampras claimed his 14th and final title in the 2002 U.S. Open.

To put Wawrinka's upset into perspective, let's take a look at some other surprising finishes from men's Grand Slam finals.

 

2009 U.S. Open: Juan Martin del Potro (No. 6) Defeats Roger Federer (No. 1)

The most apt comparison to Wawrinka's latest victory is when Juan Martin del Petro broke protocol by fending off Roger Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open.

Federer was at the top of his game at this point in time. In his seventh straight Grand Slam finals match, the Swiss star had a chance to claim his third consecutive Slam.

Instead, del Potro scooped up his first and only major title in his lone finals appearance. He needed five sets, two of which he won via tiebreaker, to bring home the major upset.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Adding even more luster to this stunner, Federer dominated the U.S. Open before del Potro came along. The 17-time champion rattled off five consecutive Open titles before losing in 2009, and he has not finished first in New York since.

Federer summed up his disappointment to the ATP World Tour after the loss: "Five was great, four was great, too. Six would have been a dream, too," Federer said. "Can't have them all."

Del Potro also derailed Nadal in the semifinals, which bears a semblance to Wawrinka besting Djokovic before finishing the job with one more monumental win. But Federer's reign of terror at the venue makes del Potro's victory a bit more special.

Wawrinka's upset would hold the same significance had he defeated Nadal at the French Open, where the Spanish sensation has won in eight of the past nine years.

 

2004 French Open: Gaston Gaudio (No. 44) Tops Guillermo Coria (No. 3)

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The most unheralded men's champion in recent memory, Gaston Gaudio emerged from nowhere to seize the 2004 French Open.

Ranked No. 44 in the world, he entered the event unseeded yet found a way to emerge as the last man standing. While he avoided all the current marquee names during his title run, he outlasted No. 3 Guillermo Coria to cement his Cinderella run.

His method of victory only sweetens the story. Gaudio dropped the first two sets, failing to win a game in the opening set. Looking down and out, he rallied to even the score before winning the deciding fifth set, 8-6.

If it feels weird to not see a marquee name in the championship era, that's because it has rarely ever happened since. Since this match, a member of the big four has occupied the title bout in all but one major.

Although nobody touted Wawrinka to capture the trophy, he at least put his name on the map with two thrilling losing efforts against Djokovic. At least everyone knew him before the 2014 Australian Open, and he's unlikely to fade into obscurity.

Gaudio never won another major. In fact, he never advanced past the third round in any other Grand Slam event.

 

2002 Australian Open: Thomas Johansson (No. 16) Knocks Off Marat Safin (No. 9)

While his road to the top did not feature a massive upset, Thomas Johansson still stands as one of the most unlikely Grand Slam winners of the modern era.

Besides a quarterfinals appearance in the 2000 U.S. Open, the then 27-year-old had not passed the second round in any majors. That drastically changed when he capitalized on some early stunners and pounced on a weaker playing field in the 2002 Australian Open.

Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten, the top two players entering the tournament, were shown the door during the opening round. In a wacky bracket, No. 7 Tommy Haas was the highest-ranked player remaining in the quarterfinals. Johansson did not encounter a top-20 player until meeting Safin in the finals. 

Without a signature victory akin to Wawrinka finally overcoming No. 2 Djokovic before besting the best in the world, Johansson doesn't register as favorably on the underdog scale.

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