by Randy Walker
Talking with media about the Australian Open Friday night on the floor of Madison Square Garden before the New York Knicks – Charlotte Bobcats NBA basketball game, John McEnroe was not completely dismissive of Stan Wawrinka’s chances of upsetting world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the men’s singles final.
“He’s got better than a puncher’s chance” said McEnroe of Wawrinka, 0-12 in matches and 0-26 in sets against the tenacious world No. 1 Nadal entering Sunday’s men’s singles final.
“I give him a one in ten or two in ten chance of winning,” McEnroe continued, before he eerily foreshadowed, “If the guy sprains an ankle, he wins.”
It wasn’t an ankle that did in Nadal, but an ill-timed back injury that allowed Wawrinka to become one of the most unlikely men’s singles champions at a Grand Slam event with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Nadal.
After Wawrinka came out swinging, playing near perfect tennis to take the first set and a 2-0- lead in the second, Nadal writhed in pain from his back, causing him to exit the court for an extended injury timeout. Nadal was not able to serve above 100 miles per hour and could barely move with the ferocity that he is known for. Painkillers and heat cream applied on changeovers improved Nadal’s condition to an extent, helping him secure the third set as Wawrinka struggled mentally. However, the Swiss was able to gather himself and closed out the four-set victory.
“I am still not sure I f I am dreaming or not,” Wawrinka said to the crowd after being presented with the Norman Brookes championship trophy. “ I will see in the morning.”
Seeded No. 8, Wawrinka is the longest-shot to win the Australian Open since No. 16 seed Thomas Johansson won in 2002 and the longest shot at any major since unseeded and 44th ranked Gaston Gaudio won the 2004 French Open.
After upsetting world No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, Wawrinka became the first player to beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a major since Sergi Bruguera at the 1993 French Open and became the first player to beat both Nadal and Djokovic en route to winning a major title.
Nadal was on the verge of writing another impressive chapter in tennis history, favored to win the title and win a 14th major singles title that would have tied him for second-place all-time with Pete Sampras, who was in Melbourne to present the men’s singles trophy. A tournament win in Australia for Nadal would have also given him the distinction of winning a “double career Grand Slam” – joining Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to win all four major singles titles at least twice.
“I’m very sad at what happened but that’s life,” said Nadal in his post-match press conference. “It’s a tough one to accept…That’s part of life. Part of sport…it’s not the end of the world.”
Of his back injury, Nadal said, “I felt a little bit from warm-up … and then I started to feel worse. I tried hard. The last thing I wanted to do was retirement. I hate to do that, especially in the final.”
With the victory, Wawrinka will move to No. 3 in the ATP rankings, moving him ahead of his gold-medal-winning Olympic doubles partner and 17-time major singles champion Roger Federer.