In the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open, the two time defending champion and world number one Novak Djokovic took on the 15th seeded Stanislas Wawrinka. At the time, Djokovic was 11-2 against Wawrinka, not having lost to the Swiss since 2006 and not even dropping a set since 2009. He was the favorite not just for the match, but for the entire tournament. But rather than coasting, Djokovic found himself down 1-6 2-5 before righting the ship and eventually outlasting Wawrinka 12-10 in a five set epic. Little did we know, this was only the beginning.
Wawrinka would go on to have his best season to date. He reached the quarterfinal stage of the French Open before reaching his first major semifinal at the US Open. In New York, Wawrinka plowed through defending champion Andy Murray and 2012 semifinalist Tomas Berdych before losing to Djokovic in another long 5 set clash. Wawrinka’s year would be capped off with his first appearance in the World Tour Finals where he went 2-1 in round robin play and lost to the eventual champion in the semifinals: Djokovic, of course.
While Wawrinka put up consistent results throughout the year, he only bagged one title, a 250 event on clay in Portugal. Two of his four opponents were ranked well outside the top 100. He did reach a Masters final, also on clay, in Madrid, falling to the King of Clay himself, Rafael Nadal. So in a way, Wawrinka’s first major championship at this past Australian Open was both a year in the making, and completely out of left field.
Wawrinka is now 10-0 on the year, having won a warm-up event in Chennai. The irony? This is the first year of Wawrinka’s entire career where he won multiple titles in a single season. Pause and digest. Stan Wawrinka played incredible tennis in Australia. He mixed brutal and physical tennis with sublime shot making and flair. He dominated with his serve, blasted winners from the baseline, and mixed in enough volleys to make you think forays to net are still a viable option. He did it all and he did it great.
After Wawrinka’s dramatic win over Djokovic in the quarterfinals, I received a text from a friend asking “Is Wawrinka good now, or does he just trouble Djokovic?” I answered, “A little bit of both.” But I think we can all admit that Wawrinka is simply great now. He’s a grand slam champion, the first player to beat Djokovic and Nadal to win a major title. Nothing came easy, although at times he certainly made it look that way.
The great thing about Wawrinka’s win is that he’s flipped the tennis world on its head. Going into the match, everyone expected Nadal to get his 14th major and second career slam. There was chatter about a calendar slam, his lead in the rankings would be as big as his biceps (not that it isn’t huge anyway), and he would be the undisputed number 1. Now it’s not as clear. Nadal is definitely number 1, but will he sustain it? How will this new injury affect him?
I’m legitimately wondering if Wawrinka can become number 1. As of now, he’s a favorite to win the US Open. He’s capable on clay, and he’s pushed Andy Murray on grass before. So if he can stay consistent and bag a few more big titles, who knows? The great thing is, even if Wawrinka’s career were to end today, he’d have a left a huge mark on tennis history.
-When Djokovic played two horrendous points to lose in the quarterfinals, a lot of people were putting the nail in his coffin. And while the end of the match was certainly trouble, the loss doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did originally. Now we can say Djokovic was the only player to come anywhere close to beating the most in form player of the moment.
-Everyone is assuming Murray will be in prime shape to defend his Wimbledon title. However, while he did well in reaching the quarters, he didn’t face any quality opposition and showed some physical limitations in his loss to Federer. I hope the best for Murray, but he only has, at most, 3 more tournaments on his preferred surface before moving to clay, the surface that hurts his back the most. Even if he’s ready to defend Wimbledon, he might have a tough time moving through a draw given his current ranking is 6th. Especially considering Wawrinka actually has a better record against Murray than any other member of the Former Big 4.
-If not for Federer, Sampras would still be the most decorated slam champion. If not for Nadal, Federer would have 20+ slams. If not for Djokovic, Nadal would have surpassed Federer by now. If not for Nadal’s physical brand of tennis and willingness to sacrifice his body for glory, he wouldn’t be anywhere close to the GOAT discussion. Nadal’s injury was unfortunate, but it takes nothing away from Wawrinka’s win. Although Nadal certainly tried to fully undermine Stan’s win by saying he felt something during the warm-up, he showed no signs of injury until visibly tweaking something when he was down a break in the second set. And he was obviously hampered for a few games when he came back from his MTO. But I find nothing classy about saying that he was injured before the match even started. Say you got the injury when you called the MTO and leave it at that.
Also, Nadal’s blister dominated the headlines for most of the second week. This one may or may not be Nadal’s fault, but the hype around it was ridiculous. Murray was playing his second tournament after back surgery and this barely got mentioned. No matter how you cut it, and I’m sure Nadal will agree, a back injury is significantly more severe than a bloody blister.
Looking forward to a great 2014!
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