The 2014 Australian Open kicked off the Grand Slam tennis season in rather surprising fashion, with No. 8 seed Stanislas Wawrinka and fourth seed Li Na emerging as champions from the men's and women's sides, respectively.
Li was favored by the time she reached the final, but the most shocking development was Wawrinka's ascent as he knocked off top seed and prohibitive favorite Rafael Nadal in four sets to capture the trophy at Melbourne Park.
Could both of these players be on their way to winning multiple major titles this season, or will they serve as aberrations of sorts and yield to bigger names as the year progresses?
Below is a closer look at the runs Li and Wawrinka made to their deserving titles in Melbourne, how it pertains to other tennis stars and their outlooks fro the remainder of 2014.
Note: Statistics and tournament information are courtesy of AusOpen.com unless otherwise indicated.
|Stanislas Wawrinka (8)||Opponent (Seed)||Result|
|Round 1||Andrey Golubev||6-4, 4-1 (Retired)|
|Round 2||Alejandro Falla||6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4|
|Round 3||Vasek Pospisil||Walkover|
|Round 4||Tommy Robredo (17)||6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5)|
|Quarterfinals||Novak Djokovic (2)||2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7|
|Semifinals||Tomas Berdych (7)||6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4)|
|Final||Rafael Nadal (1)||6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3|
|Li Na (4)||Opponent (Seed)||Result|
|Round 1||Ana Konjuh||6-2, 6-0|
|Round 2||Belinda Bencic||6-0, 7-6 (5)|
|Round 3||Lucie Safarova (26)||1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3|
|Round 4||Ekaterina Makarova (22)||6-2, 6-0|
|Quarterfinals||Flavia Pennetta (28)||6-2, 6-2|
|Semifinals||Eugenie Bouchard (30)||6-2, 6-4|
|Final||Dominika Cibulkova (20)||7-6 (3), 6-0|
Breaking Down Li Na's Australian Open Title Run
A tense first-set tiebreaker in the final was about all the drama that held Li back from defeating No. 20 seed Dominika Cibulkova, who made her own impressive run through the tournament.
The dominant cap to Li's Australian Open saw her shut out Cibulkova 6-0 in the final set to win her second career Grand Slam. Even though her opponent hit 13 of 18 first serves in play in that set, Li won 54 percent of those points in addition to holding her own in service games.
It looked as though Li was in jeopardy of a disappointing exit when she trailed 1-6 entering a second-set tiebreaker with Lucie Safarova in Round 3. However, she crushed it 7-2, won the follow-up set 6-3 and was in little danger thereafter.
espnW -- Li Na simply deserved to win Australian Open http://t.co/HYcQJckRz0— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 25, 2014
That opening set against Safarova marked the only dropped set for Li for the whole tournament, suggesting she'll be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.
Li will be 32 years old in February and became the oldest women's champion in Australian Open history, per ESPN Stats & Info:
While You Were Sleeping: Li Na won her 2nd career major title. She's oldest woman to win the Aussie Open in Open Era (31 yrs, 333 days).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 25, 2014
That's also Serena Williams' age. The No. 1 seed Williams lost to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. Victoria Azarenka was the two-time reigning champion before bowing out in the quarterfinals to Agnieszka Radwanska.
An adjustment in how she approached the final compared to her 2011 French Open triumph allowed helped Li fight through the 7-3 tiebreaker and command the final six games, per WTATennis.com:
I prepared for this one a lot more. Every round and every day I was thinking about what I should do every match. I prepared what I should do for the semis, again for the final - at the French I just went for it and didn't think about winning or losing. This one, I was really wishing I could do well...And people might not know how hard I was working mentally to make this one.
With how volatile Azarenka seemed in that loss to Radwanska with her on-court behavior and the vulnerability Williams has shown at the year's first major, Li has a shot to ascend even further in the WTA rankings. At the moment, she trails Azarenka by a mere 11 points, and the next major is in Paris.
Azarenka had a career-best semifinals appearance at Roland Garros in 2013, but Li has a title on her resume from 2011 and will attempt to fight off Williams who will be defending her title.
That should create an epic three-way fight for glory and set the stage for a great rest of the season for women's tennis.
Breaking Down Stanislas Wawrinka's Australian Open Title Run
While it's conceivable that Nadal will bounce back from a nagging blister that caused him severe pain throughout the Australian Open, Wawrinka nevertheless had a big breakthrough.
In winning his first Grand Slam title, the Swiss star proved that he could hang with tennis' elite. The most critical breakthrough that drove Wawrinka to the title was a five-set quarterfinal triumph over Novak Djokovic—who had won the tournament the previous three times.
Falling short to Djokovic is doubly painful when it comes in a marathon match, and it was a fate Wawrinka suffered in the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open and in the semifinals of the most recent U.S. Open.
Avenging those defeats gave Wawrinka the necessary confidence to push through and trounce Tomas Berdych and Nadal in the subsequent matches.
Djokovic acknowledged the strides Wawrinka made after their match had concluded, per the tournament's official Twitter account:
As for what this means for the future of men's tennis, the impact could be big. Nadal is always a bit of a health question mark given his history—he also suffered from back problems in the final—and although Roger Federer has looked better to begin the new season, it still appears his best tennis is behind him.
Who will win more Grand Slam titles moving forward?
Wawrinka is very humble and said he never expected to win a Grand Slam, per The Telegraph's Simon Briggs:
"Before today I never expect to play a final,” said Wawrinka. “I never expect to win a grand slam. And right now I just did it."
However, the 28-year-old should be oozing with confidence after his sensational performance, and it appears that he can go as far as he wants to. Former women's No. 1 player and ESPN analyst Chris Evert noticed the strides Wawrinka has made in winning his maiden major:
A Big congrats to @stan_wawrinka ... It has been such a pleasure to witness the evolving and maturing of such a nice, humble guy...— Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) January 27, 2014
With a blend of powerful groundstrokes, a booming serve and a reinvigorated mental toughness—something he referenced in Melbourne by pointing to his temple—Wawrinka has the game to win multiple Grand Slam titles in the future.