After a few days to digest Stan Wawrinka’s mind-bending Australian Open win – did he really do it? – here are some quick thoughts wrapping up our first Grand Slam of the season.
1. Stan Is The Man
I have to admit, I’m still in shock that Stan is a Grand Slam champion. Those words, they don’t fit together quite right.
Back in 2009 Juan Martin Del Potro – the only other player to breakthrough the Big Four’s 7-year hammerlock – was at least on the radar when he won the US Open. There was some pedigree there, some expectation after remarkable run that summer.
But Wawrinka? His title came totally out of left field, unless Chennai is somehow a precursor. Like Marion Bartoli. Like Francesca Schiavone and Li Na at the 2011 French Open. And for the men, maybe not since Gaston Gaudio ten years ago in Paris has there been a surprise like this.
That said, it’s a welcome one. Things needed a good shakeup at the top of the tennis rankings and we sure got it. And it might just signal a bigger shift, one that first began at Wimbledon last year.
As for Stan, it probably will end up being his lone Slam win. With Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, etc., for all of Stan’s prowess he’s still not better than them on a consistent basis. But he’ll have many chances to prove me wrong as he did in Melbourne where he played some magical tennis.
With an improved serve and forehand plus that nasty laser of a backhand, he flat-out beat the best player by far at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic. Then outslugged Tomas Berdych before hanging on in the finale over Rafael Nadal.
Sure, Rafa was nursing an injury but you have to credit Wawrinka. He was dominating from the start, battled the nerves of the moment and pulled through. Much easier said than done!
And credit to Magnus Norman. In this celebrity coaching era, I called the former No. 2 ranked Swede under appreciated, but perhaps no more after leading his guy to a second win over Nadal in Grand Slam. And he’s finally helped Wawrinka get it right between the ears.
The margins at the top of tennis are so small and usually it comes down to the mental side. Stan’s win is proof of that.
Now ranked No. 3 and as the No. 1 Swiss (by far over Roger Federer), the question is where does the #Stanimal go from here?
I don’t expect much from him the rest of this winter or at the two US Masters events in March, but during the clay season I think we’ll continue to see him be a force. And I’d love to see him play Rafa on the clay especially in Paris.
Hats off to you Stan. Well done and welcome to your new life as a Grand Slam champion!
Thankfully, it doesn’t sound too serious, however back injuries do tend to linger and eventually become more serious with age. But the stigma is there: You can point to injuries in many of Nadal’s recent Grand Slam losses. And that’s just not good. Nobody wants to hear it but it’s an unfortunate fact and one that you can tell haunts Nadal – credit to him that he didn’t retire in the final, however you could see him fighting the decision.
All in all, though, after what he went through at this time last year with the knee, it’s still a heck of a comeback story for Rafa. However, what a chance…
3. The Great GOAT Debate
I really felt that if Nadal had won a second Career Grand Slam at the Australian Open becoming the only player in the Open Era to do so, that would have cemented his move (for now) ahead of Federer on the GOAT rankings. That’s my opinion, I stand by it.
Nadal will now have to wait another full year to have that opportunity again. He’ll be 28 then. He’ll likely have some more injuries. And he’ll never have someone like Wawrinka across the net in the final, a man he was 12-0 against winning all 26 sets.
Of course Rafa still can get to 17 but this miss at history has to be on his mind and on Uncle Toni’s. As I said, what a chance.
4. Li Na & Serena
Even after her Australian Open title, Li Na still doesn’t get a lot of publicity here in the U.S. First, it’s tennis. Second, she’s Li Na. But she’s really a breath of fresh air who deserves a bigger spotlight. And I think she could become the next new No. 1.
Sure, Li turns 32 next month but it’s a young 32. Serena’s also 32 but a much older 32. Serena played her first US Open all the way back in 1997. Li played her first Australian Open in 2005. That’s a big gap.
And with Serena’s body slowly breaking down (she also left Melbourne with a back injury), Victoria Azarenka losing her sharpness and shape, maybe this Chinese woman can make a run at the top during the French.
The game, the attitude and above all the fun are there. How can you not root for her?
5. Is There A Roger Federer Rebirth?
What do we read into Roger Federer’s run to semis? First, he desperately needed some big name Grand Slam wins and he got them. Forgetting the Nadal loss (about the only thing you can do if you are Roger), beating JW Tsonga and then Andy Murray should be a massive boon for his confidence. Murray was probably not at his best but that’s a match Roger loses six months ago in straight sets.
At 32 he’s not getting back to No. 1. But he’ll be much higher than his current No. 8.
I think the bigger racquet helps and we can clearly see some of the Edberg influence with his more aggressive measures. And with the back now healthy again (he’ll even play Davis Cup this weekend), I actually expect Federer to contend at the bigger events from here, and while a second French Open title (and second Career Slam) is a pipe dream, if Wimbledon started tomorrow you’d have to put Federer among the 3-4 favorites to win there. Who would have thought that after he meekly lost to Tommy Robredo at the US Open?
6. Novak & Boris
I can’t shake that awfully awful serve-and-volley effort from Djokovic on matchpoint to Wawrinka out of my mind. And I can’t help but wonder if Boris had anything to do with it.
He probably didn’t call for it, but still…
I also can’t see this relationship between the two lasting much longer. If Djokovic fails again to win Indian Wells or Miami, two events he’ll be favored at and has won before, I’m not sure how the German Wunderkind even makes it to the clay season as Novak’s coach.
After such a strong finish to 2013 – a 24-match win streak, titles, Davis Cup – Djokovic’s bid for a fourth straight Australian Open blew up prematurely to Wawrinka, a man he had beaten 14 straight times. It has to be an absolutely crushing loss for the Novak and the camp.
And at 26 Djokovic is in the prime of his career. He can’t afford these kind of setbacks and I have to think Becker is the fall guy if the results don’t drastically take a turn for the better.
7. Grigor And Genie
The two new must-haves on the men’s and women’s tours are Grigor Dimitrov and Genie Bouchard. After years of hype, Dimitrov finally lived up to the billing.
He’s got the shots and at the Australian Open he showed some drive and moxie. While his rival and third round victim Milos Raonic continues to languish, you can see the hunger and the fire in Dimitrov who had a very, very real chance at upsetting Nadal in the fourth round.
Once he gets stronger – and he will at just 22 – and tougher, it’s not unlikely that he’ll be a multiple Slam winner on day. After all, in four years someone has to be, right?
As for Bouchard, the WTA’s new pin-up girl made her big breakthrough reaching the semifinals. A la Sloane Stephens from last year, this teen really didn’t beat anyone of note, but despite her age, the pressure and the stage, she didn’t just win those matches, she took them. And that’s saying a lot for a 19-year-old playing in her first Australian Open.
Is she the next Maria Sharapova or a future No. 1? I doubt it. I’d rate Sloane and others (Madison Keys, Simona Halep) well ahead of her in terms of overall potential, but it’s nice to have a another new face on the WTA.
And hey, since Grigor’s making the rounds on the WTA (first dating Serena, now Maria), could we see a future love match between the Bulgarian and Genie?
8. Aussie Tone Setter
I said at the start of the year that as January went so would the rest of the season. Well, if that’s the case then we are in for one wild ride in 2014.
After his loss, my runaway pick for No. 1 Novak Djokovic is a question mark again. Rafael Nadal is fighting a back, blisters and we are almost past-due for a knee injury or two. Stan Wawrinka is on top of the world and well ahead of his legendary countryman Roger Federer who at 32 seems to have found the Fountain of Youth.
Murray still needs another month. David Ferrer can still fight, but his weight class is dropping. Tomas Berdych still doesn’t seem to have any type of “want” to win Slams. JW Tsonga? Meh. And Juan Martin Del Potro… Oh no Delpo.
The young guys like Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and the Aussie 2Ks, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are starting to make their mark.
And that’s how we begin 2014. So buckle up. This could be fun.
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