Rafael Nadal vs. Stanislas Wawrinka: What Memorable Final Means for Each Player

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Rafael Nadal vs. Stanislas Wawrinka: What Memorable Final Means for Each Player
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The Australian Open Men’s final may not have boasted a titanic matchup or an epic back-and-forth contest like the 2012 final, but the last match of the 2014 tournament did not disappoint.

Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka battled hard (even through injury), but only one man could win the trophy. Here's what the result means for each competitor for the rest of 2014.

Rafael Nadal

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This year’s installment of the tourney Down Under extended Nadal’s injury-cursed run at the Australian Open. The Spaniard felt a twinge in his back during warm-ups and aggravated the injury in the second set.

Nadal talked about his injury via Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated:

The back, since the beginning I felt a little bit, from the warmup. It was a little bit worst in the first set. End of the first set, I start to feel worst. Then at the beginning of the second was the key moment that I felt, during a serve in a bad movement, is very stiff, very bad.

It was a disappointing loss for the world No. 1, but it showed his competitive fire and unrivaled willpower. He refused to retire, but he was clearly upset by the outcome (per Nguyen):

Last thing that I wanted to do was retirement. No, 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. So was not an easy situation for me to be on court like this, but I tried hard until the end.

The concern for Nadal will be whether there are any long-term consequences from the injury, but that’s the only thing that should be a worry.

The man they call “Rafa” was in spectacular form and dispatched Roger Federer in straight sets to make the final.

As long as he’s healthy, Nadal will still be a force and 2014 will be a good year for the Spaniard.

Stanislas Wawrinka

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Nadal’s injury was unfortunate, but that doesn’t take anything away from the superb performance of Stanislas Wawrinka.

This was his first major final, but he didn’t look fazed by the big stage. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated highlighted Wawrinka’s early dominance well:

It's rare that a player faces the biggest match of his career and flat-out zones. For an hour Sunday, Wawrinka was clearly the better player. This was rogue tennis. He bullied Nadal from the baseline. He controlled long rallies. He sizzled the ball off both wings. He returned brilliantly. At one juncture, he won 12 straight points.

His opponent may have been hampered, but even a Nadal at full strength wouldn’t have been able to deal with the array of shot that “Stanislas the Manislas” was peppering all over the court.

Wawrinka was still in shock after the win, according to Melissa Isaacson of ESPN:

I still think I'm dreaming. It's such a strange feeling. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slam because that's where the best players are playing. I never expect to play a final. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. And especially the way I was playing [the whole] tournament, it's for me a big surprise to play that well.

Based on his recent track record, he may have to get used to playing so late in a Grand Slam. This time last year, Wawrinka was ranked No. 17 in the world. After his Australian Open title, he’s expected to move up to No. 3—the first time in his career that he will be ranked ahead of his fellow countryman Roger Federer.

The Australian Open victory could be a career-defining win for Wawrinka that could catapult him into the upper tier of men’s tennis.

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