Melbourne: Winning the Australian Open was bitter-sweet for Stanislas Wawrinka, whose delight at stepping out of Roger Federer’s shadow with his first Grand Slam title was tempered by the knowledge that his opponent Rafael Nadal was hampered by injury.
The 28-year-old Swiss overcame Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, having survived a crippling bout of nerves sparked by the ailing Spaniard’s dogged fightback in the third set.
“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now,” the Swiss said. “I never expected to win a Grand Slam. I never dreamt about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guys. I still think that I’m dreaming. It’s a strange feeling.
“I saw so many finals. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slams because that’s where the best players are playing.
“To beat Rafa today, even if he was injured, I think I played my best first set during the match; I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak (Djokovic) in the quarters, to beat (Tomas) Berdych in the semis. That shows me Im doing the right thing since many years. That if you practise well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis.”
Having never taken a set in 12 previous encounters against the world No. 1, Wawrinka took the first at a canter in a brilliant display of clean hitting and broke Nadal to lead 2-0 in the second before the Spaniard’s back problem flared.
Playing against a hobbled opponent, Wawrinka closed out the second set with ease but was left reeling as Nadal dug deep from his reservoir of grit to hold serve and break him.
“The problem is I didn’t play well because I was waiting for him to miss, and that was a big mistake from myself,” Wawrinka said. “Because I was nervous, I was like, ‘okay, miss, miss, make a mistake, because I’m not going to win the match because I'm nervous.”
Having long lived in the shadow of Federer, eighth seed Wawrinka becomes world No. 3, while his compatriot slides to eight. The Melbourne Park triumph was arguably a year in the making.
“To win a Grand Slam, to be No. 3, both for me are big surprises,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. I saw Roger winning so many Grand Slams in the past, so now it’s my turn to win one. So, yeah, I will need time to realise what I did in these two weeks.”
Meanwhile, Nadal said that he first felt pain in the warm-up and he was then reduced to tears at the start of the second set but battled on because another injury-affected exit would have been a tough pill to swallow.
“It is true that I was not very lucky and this is a tournament that is painful for me,” an emotional Nadal, who missed the 2013 tournament, told reporters.
“It is a tournament where I really had some troubles physically and that is something that is painful for me. But that’s part of life. That's part of sport. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just another tough moment.”