Melbourne: Rafael Nadal has the opportunity to add another chapter to his storied career, and intensify an already robust debate, should he beat Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday’s Australian Open final.
A victory would make the Spanish left-hander the third man to win all four Grand Slam titles twice, joining Australians Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, and also draw him level with Pete Sampras on 14 career major titles.
It would also leave him three behind Wawrinka’s compatriot Roger Federer and would no doubt generate another round of debate as to who can justifiably be called the greatest player of all time.
“Is there one greatest player of all time?” Sampras replied when asked by reporters if Nadal or Federer could be labelled with that mantle. “I believe when you look at the history of the game, each decade has their player.
“Certainly Roger has been the best player for the last 10 years. Rafa is up there with him. (Novak) Djokovic is pushing. So it’s really hard to say.”
If Nadal does beat Wawrinka, however, it is inevitable the question will be asked whether he can achieve what no man has done since Laver in 1969 and win a calendar Grand Slam.
Few would bet against him winning his ninth French Open title in early June. He has lost just one match — to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 — at the claycourt Grand Slam since 2005.
And the manner in which he accounted for 17-time Grand Slam winner Federer, who had looked back to his fluid best at Melbourne Park after a dismal 2013, suggests he will be hard to beat at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Nadal, who has played the tournament with strapping across his left hand due to a painful blister, is only focused on the challenge posed by the 28-year-old Wawrinka.
“He’s playing better than ever... he’s a player that is ready to win against everybody,” Nadal said. “If I don’t play my best tennis... I don’t have (a) chance to beat him.”
Wawrinka started 2014 by winning his fifth career title at Chennai and then beat world No. 2 Djokovic, again in five sets, in the quarter finals at Melbourne Park, ending a 14-match losing streak to the Serb. He handily beat seventh Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals.
Wawrinka said his past record against Nadal had not entered his thoughts and he was heading into his first Grand Slam final with a lot of confidence. “The record is not what I’m looking (at). That’s what is it against Rafa (and) I don’t care about having lost 14 times. But I (had) some good match last year against him, close ones... (and) I have more confidence in myself.
“I know that when I go on court I can beat almost everybody, even on the big stage.”
Women’s singles — Final
Li Na (4, Chn) bt Dominika Cibulkova (20, Svk) 7-6(3), 6-0
Men’s doubles — Final
Lukasz Kubot/Robert Lindstedt (14, Pol/Swe) bt Eric Butorac/Raven Klaasen (US/SA) 6-3, 6-3