MELBOURNE, Australia – Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland added a victory over Rafael Nadal to his list of firsts in a stunning run to his maiden Grand Slam tennis tournament title, extending his opponent’s injury-cursed run at the Australian Open with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 upset in Sunday’s final.
The 28-year-old Wawrinka had never taken a set off Nadal in 12 previous meetings, but attacked from the start against the 13-time major winner and regained his nerve after dropping the third set against the injured Spaniard.
Nadal appeared to be on the verge of retiring in the second set, when he hurt his back and needed a medical timeout, but he refused to quit.
“It’s really not the way you want to win a tennis match, but in a Grand Slam final I’ll take it,” said Wawrinka, the first man in 21 years to beat the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked players en route to a major title.
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The top-seeded Nadal was a hot favorite to triumph at Melbourne Park and become the first man to win each of the four Grand Slam tournaments at least twice in the Open era — instead, injury woes surfaced again. The Australian Open remains the only major he hasn’t won two or more times.
“Rafa, I’m really sorry for you, I hope your back is going to be fine. You’re a really great guy, good friend and really amazing champion,” Wawrinka said as he accepted his first major trophy. “Last year I had a crazy match, I lost it. I was crying a lot after the match. But in one year a lot happened — I still don’t know if I’m dreaming or not, but we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
Wawrinka lost in five sets to Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open, in the longest Grand Slam match of the season. Djokovic went on to win his third consecutive title at Melbourne Park, and then beat Wawrinka again in five sets in the U.S. Open semifinals.
But Wawrinka avenged those losses this time, beating Djokovic in five sets in the quarterfinals — ending a run of 14 straight losses to him.
Wawrinka will move from No. 8 to No. 3 in the world ranking. In doing so, he will surpass Roger Federer, a 17-time major winner who lost to Nadal in the semifinals, to become the highest-ranked Swiss player for the first time in his career.
A constant supporter of his countryman, Federer was one of the first people to call and congratulate Wawrinka after the final.
Wawrinka broke up a sequence of victories for the men’s Big Four — with 34 of the previous 35 majors going to Nadal, Djokovic, Federer or Andy Murray.
“Stan, you really deserve it,” Nadal said. “Luck was against me today but you really deserve it. Last thing that I wanted to do was retire. I hate to do that, especially in a final.”
Nadal missed last year’s Australian Open during a seven-month layoff caused by knee injuries and illness, and his quarterfinal losses in 2010 and 2011 were affected by injuries.
When the 27-year-old Nadal took a medical timeout after falling behind a set and a break, and returned to a chorus of boos without a shirt after seven minutes, it seemed an early finish was in the cards.
“It has been a very emotional two weeks — I’m sorry to finish this way,” he told the Rod Laver Arena crowd. “I tried very, very hard — this year was one of the more emotional tournaments in my career.”