Nadal vs. Wawrinka: Australian Open Title Solidifes Wawrinka's Elite Status

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

Introducing Stanislas Wawrinka and possibly the Big Five.
Introducing Stanislas Wawrinka and possibly the Big Five.Matt King/Getty Images

At the 2014 Australian Open finals, Stanislas Wawrinka faced Rafael Nadal for the 13th time in his career having never won a set off the Spaniard. Four sets later, he had shocked the world's No. 1 tennis player and hoisted his first Grand Slam trophy. With the win coming on the back of a strong 2013 season, Wawrinka has cemented himself as a new star in men's tennis. 

Nadal was racked by injury during the match, but he had nevertheless reached the finals and was coming off of a convincing 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 semis win over Roger Federer. Nadal overcame a large blister on his hand to advance to the finals, but he needed a medical timeout in the second set against Wawrinka due to back issues. 

Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

Nadal rallied to steal the third set, but Wawrinka bounced back to claim the title 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. The victory included a variety of his blistering backhands that impressed former great Pete Sampras. 

The Swiss was beyond humble and downplayed the victory over the ailing Nadal, saying, "It's really not the way you want to win a tennis match, but in a Grand Slam final I'll take it," (via CBS Sports). Nadal remains stuck on 13 majors, but he gets his favorite surface for the next try at Roland Garros in May. 

Intense heat was also a factor earlier in the tournament, and it seemed to affect stamina in the later rounds for some players. 

Deservedly, Wawrinka improves from No. 8 to No. 3 in the world for the highest ranking of his career. His five-set quarterfinals takedown of Djokovic was even more impressive than his finals win. And his semis victory over No. 7 Tomas Berdych was no small feat either, taking the third and fourth sets 7-6 to close it out. 

He is now the first player ever to defeat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Grand Slam tournament, and the win produced other notable stats according to the ATP

It marked the first time a player not in the "Big Four"Andy Murray, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic—won a Slam since Juan Martin del Potro's 2009 stunner at the U.S. Open. Going back to 2005, 34 of the previous 35 Grand Slams had been won by a Big Four member, and now Wawrinka finds himself as a legitimate contender for that club. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland plays a backhand in his semifinal match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during day 11 of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2014 in Melbourne, Austral
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Another player hailing from Switzerland, Federer, reestablished some of his mojo in progressing to the Aussie semis, but he still has only one Grand Slam title since 2010. 

Federer took care of No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets before dispatching Murray in four sets, but he ran out of steam and Nadal took care of him handily. The 32-year-old has been hampered by a variety of injuries that somewhat derailed his dominance. In the meantime younger stars have assumed the mantle. 

Wawrinka represents a new hope for Switzerland, or at least a hedging of the bet. It was only the sixth win of the 28-year-old's career. By comparison, Federer has 77 career titles and Wawrinka will never, ever come anywhere close to that. 

However, it seems that the younger Swiss star is just beginning to hit his prime. In 2013, he reached the quarterfinals of the French Open and the semis at the U.S. Open. In Queens, his victory in the quarters came over Murray and ended the Scotsman's streak of four consecutive Slam finals.

Wawrinka kept that momentum going into this year and shocked the world Nos. 1 and 2, something that had not occurred in a Slam since 1993 at Roland Garros.

He is now poised to become a regular feature in Grand Slam semifinals. Prior to Wawrinka's sublime play in Melbourne, his most significant victory on a global stage came with a gold medal in doubles at the 2008 Olympics.

The win over a healthy Djokovic should leave no doubt that Wawrinka seems set to take the next step like Murray has done recently.

With the French Open still four months away, he will have plenty of time to reflect on his epic win and stay in tune as he seeks to get his career titles total out of the single digits.