It was an ugly loss, but Rafael Nadal's defeat at the hands of Stanislas Wawrinka in the men's final at the 2014 Australian Open is not an indication of how the Spaniard's season will unfold.
The majority of the credit in the 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 outcome in Melbourne surely goes to No. 8 seed Wawrinka, who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, such as a match against Novak Djokovic, to win the title.
It was clearly just Wawrinka's time.
That said, Nadal was unfortunate enough to suffer a back injury in the second set. He then took a medical timeout, which saw the sport's most dominant player booed upon his return, per Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Rafael Nadal getting booed as he reenters the court. There's something you don't see every...lifetime. #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 26, 2014
Nadal won the third set, but he simply did not have enough in the tank to pull out the victory. Despite obvious pain and unusually low serve numbers, Nadal saw the match through. He simply did not want to retire in a final, per the Associated Press, via ESPN:
Last thing that I wanted to do was retire. I hate to do that, especially in a final. Same time, is tough to see yourself during the whole year you are working for a moment like this, and arrives the moment and you feel that you are not able to play at your best.
It has been a very emotional two weeks -- I'm sorry to finish this way. I tried very, very hard -- this year was one of the more emotional tournaments in my career.
As Tancredi Palmeri of CNN noted, this was a feat in itself and one part of a win-win scenario for the sport as a whole:
I don't know if to support the once in a lifetime chance of Wawrinka or the infinite determination of Nadal. In any case, tennis wins— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) January 26, 2014
Even better for the sport is the fact that Nadal will be back to top form in no time, which means he can resume his budding rivalry with Wawrinka in the near future.
Remember, this is Nadal, who had the look of an unstoppable force before the final (in spite of a blister on his hand that has suddenly been forgotten). He blew through the competition before taking down a rejuvenated and aggressive Roger Federer in the semifinals, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3.
A loss to Wawrinka, who played the best tournament of his career by far, with a hurt back is not exactly something to dwell on—for Nadal or his fans.
Nadal has proven time after time that he is the most dominant player in the sport when healthy. He still holds a 12-1 head-to-head advantage over Wawrinka, and there is nothing to suggest this was a pass of the torch in the final at Melbourne when one takes into account the injury factor.
In fact, it was but a fitting end to one of the strangest tournaments in recent history, which was marred by weird upsets and game-changing weather. Greg Bishop of The New York Times illustrates this point best:
In so many ways, this odd final -- and fact 8 seed could win it -- is fitting end to tournament filled with weird weather/upsets.— Greg Bishop (@nytbishop) January 26, 2014
Nadal understands that the loss is but a bump in the road, as captured by ESPN's Melissa Isaacson:
Yeah, [this] is a tournament that I really had some troubles physically in my career and is something that is painful for me," Nadal said. "But that's part of life. That's part of sport. [It] is not the end of the world. [It] is just another tough moment. [It] is not the first."
Will Nadal win the 2014 French Open?
Believe it or not, these things do happen to Nadal every so often—especially at the Australian Open, where he has won just once (2009).
As the attention now shifts to the 2014 French Open, there should not be a shred of doubt in anyone's mind that Nadal is the favorite. He is the sport's most dominant player on clay and has run up a 59-1 record at Roland Garros.
It is currently Wawrinka's time, but Nadal will soon return.