COMMENTARY | The Australian Open final between Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka may have lacked the unbelievable quality of recent major championships, but remarks made by both in the aftermath reflected the highest standard in off-court behavior.
Wawrinka was extremely complimentary of Nadal and seemed willing to assign at least partial blame for Nadal's somewhat lacking play on the injury Nadal appeared to suffer during the second set. For his part, Nadal wouldn't discuss the injury at all, attempting to refocus the spotlight on Stan and not the sideshow of his physical limitations.
The comments by both players reflected a mutual respect and admiration that is indicative of the strong friendship that exists between them. If all competitors acted with such class, the world of sport would surely be a better place.
Despite the strong bond they clearly share, the forthcoming rivalry between Nadal and Wawrinka could reach some extreme levels of intensity and quality. Like it or not, the next three or four matches between the Spaniard and the Swiss will be intensely scrutinized due to the circumstances of their most recent meeting Down Under.
While Wawrinka was clearly in control during the early goings of the 2014 Australian Open final, it seemed clear from Nadal's body language and limited movement that he suffered an injury at some point during the proceedings. It's obviously a subjective endeavor to calculate the exact impact of that limitation on the ultimate outcome.
Wawrinka played an inspired tournament throughout the two weeks in Australia and won two key matches over Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych before beating Nadal in the last round. However, Wawrinka had played Djokovic very close in some previous matches, and Berdych is not of the same caliber of either Djokovic or Nadal.
Contrastingly, Nadal had beaten Wawrinka in all of their career head-to-head meetings and hadn't even previously dropped a set over the course of those 12 matches. Therefore, the fact that Wawrinka essentially cruised through this installment makes one wonder if indeed the Spaniard may have been at least partially hampered.
The net result of the 2014 Australian final is that Stan won the title and his name will be forever recorded in the history of the tournament. However, the dynamic of the Nadal-Wawrinka rivalry won't be frozen in time with that lone scoreline.
While each player deeply respects the other, they both have to be keenly aware that future meetings between the two will help add important context to their somewhat surprising match Down Under.
After 12 straight losses, it appeared that Stanislas was playing extremely well, but it also appeared as if he was employing the low-percentage strategy of going big on almost every shot. Whether it be a serve, forehand, backhand, or volley, Wawrinka was swinging for the fences against Nadal and the successful employment of that tactic contributed to the beating he was handing the Spaniard before the injury.
However, Nadal is a well-seasoned professional and was clearly biding his time for Wawrinka's level to drop. Unfortunately, when that did occur, it looked like Nadal was no longer physically able to play his game. In the late goings, Rafa was still watching balls go past him that usually he would be retrieving, if not banging back over the net for winners.
Due to the lopsided nature of this one match as compared to the rest of their meetings, the near-term matches between Nadal and Wawrinka should provide some of the best entertainment available on tour as both players look to put an exclamation point on their respective situation in Australia.
Nadal will obviously be looking to reclaim his dominant position in the rivalry, and would probably be ecstatic to see Wawrinka on his side of the draw at the French Open this year. Wawrinka isn't historically a strong clay-court player, which means that particular edition of the rivalry may not be the ideal place to weigh the merits of their current talents -- unless, of course, Stan were to win that potential meeting, which would be huge.
On the other hand, when the two meet on a more neutral surface, such as grass or hard court, that event will provide a key opportunity to measure their respective forms. If Wawrinka can maintain the level he demonstrated in Melbourne, then it will be interesting to see if a healthy Nadal can produce the results he's become accustomed to against the Swiss player.
A best-of-five format between Nadal and Wawrinka would probably provide the best material for analysis, because sustaining a high level of play over such a long window of time is obviously a much taller order. Nonetheless, each future match in the rivalry will have strong implications, especially while the memory of the this year's Australian is still fresh.
In 2014, the world of tennis had the unfortunate luck of watching a fairly one-sided final in Australia after being conditioned to expect greatness in the majors due to the incredible quality of top players in this era.
While this single Nadal-Wawrinka matchup may have fizzled, the two will likely provide a refund to fans with interest in the near future.
After several of those matches are completed, it will be extremely interesting to analyze the results in the context of Wawrinka's big win in Australia.
Depending on the pattern that emerges, Stan's title in Melbourne could look like a statistical anomaly, or a striking change in trend. Either way, that context will undoubtedly impact how the 2014 Australian Open final is ultimately characterized in history.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rafael Nadal
- Stanislas Wawrinka