By Umeike Tiolu Chike
The Australian Open started on the 13th of January and in the past two weeks or thereabouts, there have been 63 gruelling matches and 126 players have so far been shown the back door. It will reach its summit on Sunday, the 26th of January when World Number One Rafael Nadal and the new Swiss Number One,Stanislas Wawrinka go head-to-head for the chance to win the first Grand Slam of the year. To reach the Final, the top seed Nadal dismissed long-time rival, Roger Federer easily in straight sets while Wawrinka saw off the feeble challenge of nervy Tomas Berdych having previously ended Novak Djokovic 3-year reign at the Down Under in the Quarter Final. History is however against the Swiss man as he chases his first slam. He will not only have to overcome a lopsided head-to-head against the Spaniard which stands at 0-12 but also the terrible statistic of never picked up a set in those twelve meetings.
The question is can HE defy the history books and stun the Tennis world to win his first major or would Rafa cruise to a 2nd Aussie Open title and a 14th career slam. Let’s take a look at what to expect from what is going to be an entertaining and physically exhausting match for fans and players alike.
HEAD TO HEAD
- Rafael Nadal 12 V Stanislas Wawrinka 0
- Nadal 7-6(7-5),7-6(8-6) round robin,2013 ATP World Tour Finals
RAFAEL NADAL ROAD TO FINAL
- ROUND 1:Defeated Bernard Tomic 6-4 retired
- Round 2: Defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4,6-2
- Round 3:Defeated Gael Monfils(25) 6-1,6-2,6-3
- Round 4:Defeated Kei Nishikori(16) 7-6(7-3),7-5, 7-6(7-3)
- Quarter-Finals: Defeated Grigor Dimtrov (22) 3-6,7-6(7-3),7-6(9-7),6-2
- Semi-Finals: Defeated Roger Federer(6) 7-6(7-4), 6-3,6-3
This is Rafael Nadal’s 19th Grand Slam Final and his best performance at the Aussie Open was in 2009 when he beat rival and friend,Roger Federer in a thrilling five-set match after which the Swiss cried “God, this is killing me”
- STANISLAS WAWRINKA
ROAD TO FINAL
- Round 1:Defeated Andrey Golubev 6-4 4-1 retired
- Round 2: Defeated Aleiandro Fella 6-3,6-3,6-7(4-7),6-4
- Round 3: Defeated Vasek Pospisil (28) walkover
- Round 4: Defeated Tommy Robredo(17) 6-3,7-6(7-3),7-6(7-5)
- Quarter Finals: Defeated Novak Djokovic(2) 2-6,6-4,6-2,3-6,9-7
- Semi Finals: Defeated Tomas Berdych(7) 6-3,6-7(1-7),7-6(7-3),7-6(7-4)
NADAL AT THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN
His path to the final has been mostly straight forward, and he couldn’t have asked for a better start when Bernard Tomic was forced to retire after the first set of their highly-anticipated first round showdown due to hip injury. Then, in his first completed match he defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round and despite the one-sided scoreline, the young Aussie earned praise from pundits and even Nadal for his impressive showing against much more fancied opponent. The third round which was a repeat of the DOHA Final played earlier this year ended in Rafa’ favor who this time around dismissed the Monfils rather too easily. That was his best performance at that time. He dropped only six games.
Next up was Kei Nishikori of Japan. He won his straight sets (two were tie breaks) despite dropping serve for the first time in the tournament. It was not a vintage performance from the muscle man of Mallorca-still enough to advance. In the quarter-finals, he was faced against first-time Slam quarter-finalist, Grigor Dimitrov. He struggled against Sharapova’s boyfriend as a blister on his hand made him lose grip and hindered his serve coupled with the Bulgarian’s brilliant performance. Despite losing the first set, he regrouped, took the second and third in tie-breaks (saved three set-points in the third) and moved another level in the fourth and took that 6-2
The semis brought a familiar friendly-foe, Roger Federer. This time around, Rafa was back to business as he easily took care of the Swiss Great in straight sets in what has been his best performance. His serve was lethal, his backhand passing shots were on fire, and the forehand was back; his 23rd win in 33 matches against RF.
WAWRINKA AT THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN
What a tournament it’s been for Stanislas!
After his first round opponent, Andrew Golubev, fell victim to the stifling heat in the opening round,
Wawrinka celebrated his first completed victory when he defeated Alejandro Falla in four sets, and then strolled into the fourth round when Vasek Pospisil withdrew before their third round showdown due to a back injury.
He would then record his only straight-sets victory of the tournament by defeating 17th seed Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, of which two sets were decided by tie-breaks.
His Quarter-Final performance against Serb, Djokovic caught the attention of the Tennis world. He knocked NOLE off his perch in what would be his greatest victory of his career. He did that at his 15th attempt having failed to beat him on 14 previous occasions; his last victory dating back to 2006. He did it in five sets, the final set lasting sixteen games.
And in the semi-finals, he pounced on Tomas Berdych’s nerves and defeated the Czech in four sets, with a break in the middle of the first set ultimately proving the difference as Stan finally moved into his first Grand Slam final.
WHAT RAFAEL NADAL NEEDS TO DO TO WIN THE TITLE
- Nadal is the clear favourite in this match, and so the key for him will be to keep the pressure on Wawrinka early and try make him uncomfortable which would make the nerves set in. He should not let Wawrinka get into his strides and should make his experience in slam finals count.
- The Spaniard will have to keep serving as well as he did during the semifinals against Roger. Because Wawrinka’s serve has been fantastic throughout the fortnight; Nadal won’t have many chances to break him so the key for him would be to hold. Wawrinka is also strong off the return, if Nadal second serve percentage should drop, he could get into trouble
Wawrinka signature shot is the one-handed backhand and it’s worthy of note that Rafa has enjoyed some degree of dominance over one-backhanders(notably Roger and Stan) thanks to the heavy top-spin which pressures the soon-weary hand to make mistakes. While going to his backhand might not look the wisest thing to do because of the faster surfaces and because it won’t generate much spin unlike the clay surface. It won’t however be out of place if he pressures it to see whether it would crack and also to open up Wawrinka’s forehand. If He can gain entry into his backhand then he won’t be far from the title.
- He will also have to keep going for broke on his passing shots and move Wawrinka around the court. The Swiss is a very aggressive player and likes to be in control, and so Nadal will have to keep from getting too defensive.
- Nadal is 12-0 against Stan and that record would do his confidence no harm. He should not however underestimate him. He should approach the match with utmost respect like he’s always done.
WHAT WAWRINKA NEEDS TO DO TO WIN THE TITLE
- Stan is going to have to play the match of his life if he’s to win his first Slam and shock the whole world. The good thing is that he’s been excellent this past two weeks. He should draw inspiration from his quarter-final win over Novak Djokovic and try replicate everything in that five-set encounter.
- He’ll need to serve and return exceptionally well so that he can play the points on his own terms. He can’t allow Nadal dictate the tempo as very few players are able to match Rafa in that aspect.
- He will have to take whatever opportunities he gets as they’ll probably come in bits. Rafa’s serve has not been the greatest (bar the semi-final) and he’ll fancy his chances of breaking his serve. The question is whether he’ll take advantage of break-point opportunities and when he does, he can’t afford to let Nadal back in the game easily. Nadal is not known for being generous with points especially when the momentum shifts back to him
He also has to go for early winners as engaging in long rallies with Rafa would probably be a waste of time. He however has to remain calm and not get too overly excited. He should however remain assertive and end rallies fast.
- He should try to take the ball away from Nadal, make him run. He should however be careful of coming to the net because as we saw in the Spaniard’s match against Federer, he’s got deadly passing shots.
- I’m not a psychologist but I can imagine what losing to the same player 12 times in a row would do to one’s confidence (he’s even yet to win a set).It’s a big mental block Stan has to clear if he’s to have a chance of winning the Aussie Open. He’s got to believe in himself despite all the odds stacked up against him. He can look at his victory over Djokovic and draw confidence. The moment he loses faith, the runner-up trophy will be in his hands.
2014 AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEN’S FINAL STATS
- This will be their thirteenth meeting overall; Nadal has won all twelve of their meetings in straight sets, including four times last year.
- This will be their third meeting at Grand Slam level; Nadal won their previous two losing just six games in each of them.
- Win or lose, Stanislas Wawrinka is guaranteed to become the Swiss number one for the first time ever, displacing Roger Federer who had been the top Swiss since 2001.
This will be Nadal’s 19th career Grand Slam final, while for Wawrinka this will be his first.
- Wawrinka joins David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Mariano Puerta in having Nadal as an opponent in their first Grand Slam final.
- Only Roger Federer (twice, at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007) and Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon and US Open 2011 and Australian Open 2012) have beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam final.
- Victory for Nadal would extend his head-to-head record against Federer and Wawrinka combined to 36-10.
- Victory for the Spaniard would see him become the first man in the Open Era to achieve the double Career Grand Slam, and also see him equal Pete Sampras on 14 Grand Slam titles.
- Those would also see him stake his claim to greatness over Roger Federer, who has only won the French Open once, and Sampras, who never won at Roland Garros let alone reach the final.
- Wawrinka is the first man other than Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray to have reached the final here since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008.
- No non-Big Four member has won the Australian Open since Marat Safin won in 2005; likewise, no non-Big Four member has won a Grand Slam title since Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 US Open.
- Apart from Roger Federer and Martina Hingis, no other man or woman from Switzerland has won a Grand Slam title.
TOUCHLINE UI VERDICT
Wawrinka will most likely push Nadal but that won’t stop the Spaniard from walking away from Melbourne tied with Pete Sampras on 14 major titles and edge closer to Roger Federer’s record of seventeen. If Rafael Nadal can play anything close to the level he reached against another Roger than in all fairness there is little Stan would be able to do. That’s just the reality of facing Nadal in his prime. Stan has no doubt been brilliant but the runners-up trophy would most likely be his reward for his efforts. Nadal will beat Wawrinka in four tight but entertaining sets.
Questions of the Day
- Who do you feel will win the title?
- What else must the players do to have their hands on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup