Suppose it's Saturday, January 25, 2014. You had watched Rafael Nadal dismantle Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, and now the Spaniard was preparing to take on Stanislas Wawrinka, a man to whom he had never lost a set. Then the tennis gods guaranteed that in 2014 one man would hold both the Australian Open title and the Monte Carlo Masters.
Putting up even money, is there anyone that would have bet on Wawrinka rather than Nadal? Heck, Nadal is the only player to pull off the feat (2009) in 31 years, and he didn't win the French Open that year.
Now Wawrinka is a legitimate threat to be the first man since Jim Courier (1992) to win both the Australian and French Opens. Nobody has ever won Melbourne, Monte Carlo and Roland Garros in the same year, dating back to the 19th century.
It's a great boost for Wawrinka, given his recent mini-struggles at Indian Wells, Miami and Davis Cup competition.
If you watched the Monte Carlo final versus Federer, you could see him shed his little-brother mentality versus Federer. He overcame early erratic errors with his backhand. He got over the grimace he showed when he botched an easy putaway at net to open the third game of the second set. Then, it seemed to snowball into his horrible service game. It could have cost him the match.
You could also watch him stubbornly turn the tide of the match and finally pin Federer into the baseline in the third set. He unleashed a power barrage of backhand and forehand ropes that were eerily similar to the way Courier could bludgeon his opponents two decades ago. (Although Courier's baseball-swing double-backhand was inferior.)
Wawrinka's resilience in beating his friend and compatriot for a big title, and a champion who had bested him 11 straight times, was nothing short of impressive. It was like the formula to beating Mike Tyson in the original Nintendo version of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!:
The first round is survival only, avoiding the knockout blows and getting in a few licks.
- The second round the player must change the tempo and soften up Tyson.
- The third round has to be a clean, dominating round. Then the player can grab the championship belt. Any slippage, and Tyson will take you down.
Congratulations to Ironman Wawrinka. What a gutsy, if not great, performance. We toast you with one giant Golden Breadstick award.