That was quite a tournament, wasn't it?
The 2014 Australian Open was quite an unexpected Grand Slam, harking back to decades past where the results were a little more unpredictable than they have been in recent times.
We saw Ana Ivanovic defeat heavy favourite Serena Williams, returning Serena's serve as well as someone can. We saw the two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka upset by Agnieszka Radwanska, who put together a masterful display of shotmaking. We saw the rise of a future star in Eugenie Bouchard (who is now my favourite female player). A consistent top 20 player, Dominika Cibulkova, had the tournament of her life, and made the final. And Li Na put together a run of blistering form to win her second major title - it's hard to believe now that she was one point away from defeat in the first week.
On the men's side, the feature story was obvious - the rise of Stanislas Wawrinka. After losing in an excruciating 5-set marathon to Novak Djokovic last year, Stan went on to have a fantastic 2013, by making a Slam semi, making a Masters final, and qualifying for the Year-End Championships in London. However, coming into this major at #8 in the world, nobody would have foreseen what happened through the first major of the season.
Novak Djokovic failed to make the semifinals of a Slam for the first time since the French Open in 2010, as he fell in dramatic fashion to the "Stanimal," who finally prevailed 9-7 in the 5th set after losing twice in 5 sets to the Serb last year. It was a coming of age moment for the Swiss. Djokovic was looking for his 4th straight title in Australia, and now finds himself only having won two majors in the last 24 months.
Roger Federer had a successful tournament overall, even if the finish to it was a little underwhelming. After three straight Slams where he was knocked out before the semifinals, to make the final 4 after getting by Tsonga in the 4th round and Murray in the quarters is a step in the right direction. Though he encountered the same problems he always does against his greatest challenge, Nadal, the tournament has shown us that the new racquet and new coach, Edberg, were the right choices to make.
And then there was the final, the #1 player in the world, Rafael Nadal, vs heavy underdog Wawrinka, who had failed to take a set in their 12 previous meetings. Nobody could have guessed what would have happened on that Sunday night.
The Swiss juggernaut played an amazing first set, using his great power and aggressive mindset to take the play to the 2009 champion. The turning point came when Stan was serving for the set and he got down 0-40. He then won the next three points off of Nadal return errors (off 2nd serves no less) and he took the set. He broke in the very first game to take a commanding lead in the match, and then Nadal took a medical time-out and left the court for a back problem. When he returned he was greeted with boos, and he could barely serve the ball over the net as he was broken again and lost the 2nd set.
The fighting Spaniard took the 3rd with the help of a lapse in concentration by Stan, but in the 4th set the man born in Lausanne closed it out with a subdued reaction to his greatest triumph, in respect for Nadal and his injury problem.
I understand that Nadal has a history of taking MTO's at inopportune moments in order to try and regain control and momentum of a match. When part of the crowd was booing him, it was before they (and we at home) knew the severity of Rafa's back problems. He could hardly twist on his serve and he was arming all his groundstrokes and not moving for much. his body seemed to get better in the 3rd and 4th sets, but there is absolutely no doubt that the injuries were real, no matter what anyone thinks.
The important thing to take away from this is that Wawrinka was already up a set and a break before Rafa's movement was compromised. The way he was playing, and with the self-belief he had found, it is very likely he would have won even if Rafa was at 100%, as strange as that sounds.
Two weeks ago I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that Stan would have won this event. But that's tennis, and anything can happen. All those Nadal fans who gloated after his win over Federer because he was facing Wawrinka in the final were stunned by the outcome. Above all else, tennis has a new Grand Slam champion, and a very deserving one (he's 2nd only to Ivanisevic in number of Slams played before winning one). He is only the third man since the start of 2005 to win a major other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray, and he is the first player ever to beat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Slam.
Now, onto Federer.
Of course it's disappointing any time he loses a match, and we had high hopes for his semifinal against Nadal after his wins over Tsonga and Murray. He needed to win the first set and he did not. Nadal has such great confidence against Federer that going in front just makes him play even harder, and that spells trouble for Fed. Roger played well at times and poor in others, but it must be said that Rafa played a very solid match. Good serving, great returning, and consistent, deep baseline play - his tried and true formula for beating Roger.
I can't complain at all about the loss though. Sure, if Rafa had his back issue two days earlier Roger would have played Stan in the final and he may or may not have won, but I'm happy with the way things turned out. Wawrinka deserved the Slam title more than anyone else and Roger showed enough good in the event to show me that 2014 will be a good year for him if he stays healthy. The game is there, the motivation is there, the health just needs to be there.