Are we in for one final climatic surprise at the Australian Open this year? After an unprecedented run of upsets – both on the men’s and women’s side – anything is really possible, even though on paper the Rafael Nadal-Stan Wawrinka final appears to be a complete and utter mismatch.
But before I get there, let’s backup a day to the big showdown from Friday between GOAT rivals Rafa and Roger Federer.
It was meeting No. 33 and as predicted it played out just like the other 32 meetings did with Rafa mostly dominating, attacking the Federer backhand to no end and eventually breaking that wing down. Roger did well to hang in there for a set or so but the constant barrage of shots from Nadal was just too much.
As I’ve said many times before, tennis is about matchups. And for Federer playing Nadal is an awfully awful matchup.
Roger just doesn’t have an answer for Rafa’s ferocious forehand to his weaker backhand. He’s never had it and never will. Not next year, not in 10 years on the senior tour when Rafa’s bald and Roger’s older and grayer.
That spinner forehand is just not going away. And at 32 Roger’s backhand isn’t magically going to turn into Novak Djokovic’s.
Roger’s only chance is for Rafa to either have an off day – unlikely since he really gets up for playing Federer – or he plays him on a quick, low bouncing indoor court or on grass. Otherwise it’s rinse, repeat, Rafa wins.
Still for Federer, it was a positive week under new coach Stefan Edberg. We saw him move better than he has in a while. And he played much more aggressively.
He did beat JW Tsonga and got over on Andy Murray. And even though he’ll slide to No. 8 in the rankings (and below Wawrinka), based on his fall results and his decent start to 2014, it appears Roger’s going to be a threat again. Maybe not to Nadal or Novak Djokovic, but he’ll at least be back to contending unlike what we saw last year when he was losing to guys named Delbonis and Stakhovsky (no offense, fellas).
As for tomorrow…
Rafael Nadal v Stan Wawrinka
As I said on paper this final doesn’t look pretty. Not only has Nadal won all 12 meetings but he’s also won all 26 sets! That’s not good.
So for Stan, who is playing in his very first career Grand Slam final and in the biggest match of his career, he has to win not one set (something he has never done against Rafa) but three sets. That’s asking a whole heck of a lot.
Yet I think he can get one. And really, he should get more.
Unlike Federer, because of the strength of his backhand I think Stan does match up pretty well with Nadal, at least in pure tennis terms.
Stan’s improved his forehand and his serve, and he’s playing smarter tennis thanks in part to the under-appreciated Magnus Norman who, by the way, once helped Robin Soderling stun Nadal at the French.
And Stan did just take down Novak Djokovic after the Serb had got the better of him 14 straight times.
But mentally is where Wawrinka gets into trouble. And I don’t think he truly believes he belongs with the big boys. He just seems too nice about them, too reverential. Soderling wasn’t like that, he didn’t care. I think Stan is in awe of Federers, Nadals and Djokovics. And ultimately that hurts him. Or maybe it did hurt him.
For Nadal, it’s business as usual. He’s a killer in these closing situations and it’s hard to imagine him not finishing the job. The blister seems to be a non-issue now, and he’s playing with fury. If he serves well and gets Stan on the move that should be enough.
For Wawrinka, he has to deal with the stage and then deal with Rafa. He’ll have to go after Rafa’s forehand and really attack from the backcourt – unlike Federer he can’t do much damage from the net. So unfortunately it’s his strength – baseline tennis – vs Rafa’s strength which also happens to be baseline tennis. It’s long odds for Wawrinka but it’s been done before.
That said I would actually give Stan a better chance than Roger against Rafa. But with a second “career Grand Slam” and the truckload of “GOAT points” that it comes with, Rafa’s not going to let this chance slip by.
The pick: Nadal in four
As for the women’s final today, I think Li Na overwhelms another Grand Slam final debutante, Dominika Cibulkova.
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