Stanislas Wawrinka was unbreakable in a 2014 Australian Open survival of the fittest.
Wawrinka downed a lame Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 in the final to be crowned men’s singles champion at Rod Laver Arena on Australia Day.
On the back of his maiden Grand Slam, Wawrinka has risen to No. 3 in the world rankings and taken over from Roger Federer as the top-ranked Swiss player.
Wawrinka was left dumbfounded by what he achieved and says it will take time for it to sink in.
“To win a slam, to be No. 3, both for me is a big surprise,” Wawrinka said.
“I think more to win a slam because in the ranking you can be No. 3 without winning a slam. But now it’s both happening, so it’s a big surprise.
“It’s amazing feeling. I saw Roger winning so many Grand Slams in the past, so now it’s my turn to win one.
“If you look the 10 past years, except [Juan Martin] Del Potro, it’s only the top four guys who was winning all the Grand Slams.”
Wawrinka had to run the gauntlet this Open by meeting the top two seeds en route to the trophy.
Not only did the 28 year old from Lausanne beat top dog Nadal in the final, he edged four-time Open champion Novak Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set of a quarter final epic, which was the match of the tournament.
Four of Wawrinka’s victories came against top-20 ranked opponents and that tells you something about the fortnight he enjoyed at Melbourne Park.
“I will need time to realise what I did in these two weeks,” he said.
“I did amazing two weeks and I was playing my best tennis ever.
“At the end, even if Rafa was injured, I think I deserve that Grand Slam because I won against Djokovic, No. 2, and I won against Rafa.
The final itself was not a classic, but it was not without its drama.
Nadal, the 13-time Grand Slam winner and Australian Open champion in 2009, was visibly in pain due to a back injury.
He momentarily heard the boos from the crowd and his opponent enquired about his status to chair umpire.
Like a warrior, Nadal fought on, even taking the third set against the odds, before allowing Wawrinka his glorious moment on his terms.
Nadal would not take any gloss off Wawrinka’s win and refused to talk about his back problems post match.
“This is not the moment to talk a lot about the back,” Nadal said. “Is the Stan day, not my day. As I say before, I try my best and was not possible for me today.
“I’m obviously disappointed and very sad about what happened, but that’s life, that’s sport.
“I really had a lot of great moments in my career. That’s a tough one. Just accept and keep trying to keep working hard for what’s coming.”
Wawrinka, the rank underdog, shot out the blocks like a man without anything to lose.
He cruised through the opening two sets in quick time and it appeared as though a quick kill was in store.
But on the verge of history and facing an opponent that was physically struggling, Wawrinka went into his shell and did not play the kind of breathtaking attacking tennis that he had shown for the previous two weeks.
“I feel I play my best tennis during one set and one break,” Wawrinka said. “I was feeling really good on the court. I was moving well, feeling really aggressive and I play my best set for sure by far.
“Then it wasn’t easy, he get injury and I saw that. He wasn’t serving at all. He wasn’t moving during one set. Then was a completely different match.
“I had to focus on myself to find the way just to win it. I knew it was really, really difficult for him. I was unhappy for that because normally that’s not the way I want to win the match, but it’s a final, at the end I won in four sets. I think I finish well the match.”
Wawrinka would get his moment in the sun, though he can hardly believe it.
In just over two hours and 20 minutes, Wawrinka would etched his name onto the Australian Open trophy and into the Grand Slam record books forever more.
“I still think I’m dreaming,” he said with a smile. “It’s a strange feeling. I saw so many finals. I always try to watch the final of a Grand Slam because that’s where the best players are playing. I never expect to play a final, I never expected to win a Grand Slam and right now I just did it.”
2014 Australian Open
Men’s singles final
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) d Rafael Nadal (ESP) 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3