Don't miss any stories Follow Tennis View

LIVE BLOG: Australian Open Men's Final (Nadal vs. Wawrinka)

Jan 25th 2014

The Australian Open men's final has a history of featuring first-time major finalists in recent years, from Thomas Johansson and Rainer Schuettler to Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Added to their number this fortnight is Stanislas Wawrinka, who faces world No. 1 and 2009 champion Rafael Nadal for the title.  Nadal seeks to become the first man ever to win at least two titles at each of the four majors.

Stanislas Wawrinka

Prematch:  A daunting task looms before No. 8 seed Wawrinka, destined to reach the top five for the first time next week no matter the result.  He has lost all 26 of the sets that he has played against Nadal, half of them on hard courts.  This match marks only their third meeting at a major, where the best-of-five format should favor the Spaniard's efforts to wear down the underdog.  Six of their last 10 sets on hard courts have gone to tiebreaks, however, so Nadal's edge may be slightly less overwhelming than it appears.

And it is not as though Wawrinka has not overcome long odds already.  In the quarterfinals, he conquered three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in a five-set thriller that ranks as the best men's match of the tournament.  After avenging his loss to the Serb in a similar five-setter last year, Wawrinka did not rest on his laurels.  He battled through a four-set, three-tiebreak semifinal against Tomas Berdych without ever dropping his serve.  Wawrinka will need that weapon tonight to help him settle any early nerves and earn free points to get a foothold in the match.

That will be easier said than done with Nadal across the net.  Not only has he swept all 12 of their previous meetings, but he has dropped just one set this tournament.  Nadal's lone dance with danger came in a quarterfinal against Grigor Dimitrov, when he nearly fell behind by two sets to one.  A blister on his left hand troubled his grip on the serve during that match.  It appeared to hinder him less significantly during the straight-sets victory over Roger Federer that followed.  Imposing on serve in that match, Nadal will look to use the same patterns against his second Swiss opponent that worked against the first.  

Expectations lie relatively low for this match by the standard of a major final, largely because of the lopsided record between the finalists.  Most neutral fans would be content simply to see Wawrinka make the final a competitive match rather than a formality.  Some history is on his side, for heavy underdogs in recent Australian Open finals often have taken a set.  The match starts at 7:30 PM (3:30 AM ET, 12:30 AM PT).  Updates will follow after each changeover, and closing thoughts will appear after the match ends.

Wawrinka 2-1*:  Wawrinka needed a strong start on serve to build his self-belief, and he gets it without much ado.  Holding at 15 in the first game, he draws a series of errors from Nadal without needing to hit overly reckless groundstrokes.  Still, Nadal finds his way into most of the points, which is a good sign for him moving forward.  Wawrinka's serve represents one of his main advantages over the world No. 1, likely to prevail if he can neutralize it.  By contrast, Wawrinka struggles to find his way into points on Nadal's serve, much as his more famous compatriot did in the previous round.  There are few signs of nerves from the first-time major finalist, though, as he powers through another hold with a dazzling backhand over the high part of the net.

Wawrinka 4-1*:  The first chink in Nadal's armor arrives with a double fault in the next game.  Sensing his chance to claim an early edge, Wawrinka increases his intensity as his opponent looks edgier than one might expect in the situation.  He strikes a cross-court forehand that Nadal cannot retrieve for the break.  The underdog has found his range more quickly than the favorite, perhaps because he has nothing to lose.  Wawrinka fires three aces in the next game, one on his second serve, to hold with a swagger.  Remember that he never has won a set from Nadal.

Wawrinka 5-2*:  Rafa could count on winning the vast majority of rallies pitting his forehand against Federer's backhand.  This may not be the case against Wawrinka, who looks more than willing to go toe to toe with the Spaniard in a battle of their biggest weapons.  A 30-0 lead quickly evaporates after he wins one of those battles and then plows to the net with a boldness impressive for a baseliner.  Nadal's wide serve in the ad court bails him out of a potential double-break deficit, as it often does for lefties.  The first set might have been over in the blink of an eye, but Wawrinka still has work to do.  One wouldn't know it to look at him as he swings from his heels and jerks the world No. 1 around the baseline at will.

The Swiss has held 33 consecutive service games as he prepares to close out a set against Nadal for the first time.  The Spaniard has not even sniffed a break point yet, although he delivers an encouragingly solid hold to ask the question of Wawrinka:  will his nerves betray him with the first set of a major final on his racquet?  A shank on the first point is an ominous sign for the eighth seed, whose first serve falters when he most needs it.  Showing courage with his back to the wall, Nadal flattens out a forehand return of serve for an explosive winner.  Such a risky tactic is not often seen from the Spaniard, but Wawrinka's shot-making brilliance may force him to take more chances.  Quickly down triple break point with predictably nervy play, Wawrinka saves all three thanks in part to shaky returning from the world No. 1. He hammers a service winner and an ace to secure the first set.  That magical escape might give him some momentum heading into the next set as well.

Wawrinka wins the first set 6-3

Wawrinka 6-3 2*-1:  Don't ring the upset bell just yet.  The winner of the first set has won just seven of the last 15 Australian Open finals, whereas the winner of the second set has won 20 of the last 21.  Not relenting in the slightest, however, Wawrinka records a stunning break at love to start the second set.  Both of his groundstrokes are penetrating the court much more effectively than those of his opponent, and a vicious cross-court backhand return winner recalls what Djokovic has done to Nadal's serve. Wawrinka's cross-court forehand has proved especially valuable in thrusting Nadal onto his back foot.  The world No. 1 looks increasingly ill at ease.  Forced back to deuce from 40-15, he grabs his back and drops the speed on his first serve.  

Wawrinka 6-3 4*-1:  Even after a medical timeout, Nadal returns to the court only a fraction of the player that he was through the first six rounds.  He barely can spin his serve into the court and cannot put any of Wawrinka's serves into play.  Over the next two games, he wins only one point while holding his back stiffly with his mobility clearly limited.  Still, Nadal bravely plays on, even though victory is nearly impossible under these circumstances.  Only one man ever has retired from an Australian Open, Stefan Edberg in 1990.  

Wawrinka 6-3 5*-2:  A 40-0 lead evaporates for Wawrinka in what has become an extremely strange match without any rhythm or pulse.  At that stage, he does just enough to hold.  Nadal then appears to essentially concede his next service game, approaching the net behind a lethargic serve-volley down set point.  Somehow he manages to hold and keep the set alive, showing true competitive girt.  The trainer returns during the changeover, as he did during the previous changeover.  

The Swiss serves out the set without much ado.  He stands one set from his first major title, albeit under bizarre circumstances.  The trajectory to the match is unfortunate because Wawrinka had dictated play even before Nadal's injury but now will find his performance overshadowed by what looks like a serious injury to the world No. 1.

Wawrinka wins the second set 6-2 and leads by two sets to love

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 0*-3: Sometimes playing an opponent with a serious injury can drag down even an uninjured player's game.  The lethargy from Nadal's side of the net appears to have crossed to Wawrinka, who donates an unfocused break of serve.  Armed with an implausible lead in the third set, Nadal still can cling to a few threads of hope.  He fell behind double break point in the first game of the third set, but Wawrinka allowed him to escape.  That dip from the Swiss might make this match longer than expected a few iminutes before.  

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 1*-4:  Tennis played at quarter-speed makes a major final much less interesting to watch (and blog).  Nadal returns to his post-injury norm of conceding Wawrinka's serve with minimal resistance.  But a suddenly error-prone Swiss cannot exploit the Spaniard's cratering first-serve speed.  Neither man now looks anything like their first-set selves.

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 2*-5:  More of the same as Wawrinka unleashes some sparkling backhands but misses too many straightforward returns of serve.  His rhythm has been completely disrupted by the unexpected turn of events across the net.  Nadal might well avoid his first straight-sets loss in a major final.

It's not particularly useful to break down Wawrinka's service games at this point.  All that he need do to survive them is strike a reasonably solid first serve and maybe a groundstroke or two before Nadal surrenders the point.  He quickly moves to double break point as Nadal serves for the third set.  Then, a string of routine errors give the Spaniard the gifts that he needed to somehow escape with a set in which he never loses serve.  With understandable frustration considering his opponent's condition, Wawrinka starts to chatter angrily at his box.  Failing to close out an opponent so injured would fluster anyone, and even more so a man seeking his first major title.

Nadal wins the third set 6-3; Wawrinka leads two sets to one

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 3-6 2-1*:  Never count out a champion with Nadal's pedigree, no matter how physically depleted.  Wawrinka cannot afford to start the fourth set with play as flat as his start to the third.  He cracks two sparkling backhands in the first game, a positive sign considering that stroke's breakdown in the previous set.  Nadal's first-serve speed has increased, but his accuracy on serve has not increased much.  Once again, Wawrinka marches to double break point.  This time, he punches a second-serve return meekly into the net on the first chance before Nadal saves the second with a well-placed first serve.  The Swiss is so close yet still so far, and that fact must be simmering in his mind.   He cannot string together a sequence of solid points, but still he holds serve methodically to keep the pressure on Nadal.

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 3-6 3-2*:  Neither man accomplishes much on return over the next two games.  Nadal still seems to be guessing the direction of Wawrinka's serve and letting them slide past uncontested if he guesses wrong.  For his part, Wawrinka almost seems to have too much time to think before unleashing his strokes.  

Wawrinka 6-3 6-2 3-6 4-3*:  After routine groundstroke errors from Nadal open the door, the Swiss kicks it down with a punishing forehand winner down the line.  Now up a break in the fourth set, he needs just two service holds to secure the title.  Not so fast, though.  Wawrinka takes his turn spraying groundstrokes to all places other than his desired targets, and he concedes a break at love to pull the set level again.  When a back injury plays a first-time major finalist on the brink of a breakthrough, the result is one of the ugliest passages of play that we'll ever see in a major final.

Wawrinka moves six points from the title with a series of cross-court backhands, each more audacious than the shot before.  He finally redirects the ball down the line to break the rally open.  That point appears to unleash an inspired span from the Swiss, who breaks with a perfectly placed forehand pass and the same forehand winner down the line that earned him the previous break.  Now, the match and the Australian Open title rest on Wawrinka's racquet.  Can he hold his nerve?

He can, and he does.  Two service winners open the game as he recognizes the importance of delivering a formidable first serve.  Nadal fails to put a second-serve return in play, setting up triple championship point.  Wawrinka needs only the first, converted with an inside-in forehand winner.

Stanislas Wawrinka wins the match and the 2014 Australian Open men's singles title, 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3

Postmatch:  The quality of this match fell sharply on both sides of the net when Nadal fell victim to an injury early in the second set.  He showed his courage by competing through the next two and a half sets, even though victory never looked like a realistic hope thereafter.  Nadal and his fans should feel proud of that effort despite their justifiable concern over this back injury.  The back was not an area that had bothered him much until now, which makes the injury an even greater worry.  That said, he enjoyed a strong tournament that burnished his hard-court credentials even further and lengthened his lead at No. 1 over Novak Djokovic.  The Australian Open never has been a kind tournament to Nadal, who has encountered significant injuries there in three of his last five appearances.  

Unfortunately for Wawrinka, the headlines will not all focus on his feat tomorrow.  And yet he was the better player during the stage of the match before Nadal's injury, so he might well have won had it never happened.  Ranked outside the top 15 when the 2013 season began, Wawrinka rises to No. 3 on Monday with his first major title.  He becomes the first man to defeat Nadal and Djokovic at the same major, and he now rivals Juan Martin Del Potro for the label of most legitimate challenger to the Big Four (Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Roger Federer).  Wawrinka also has eclipsed Federer in the rankings for now, holding the well-deserved status of Swiss No. 1.  Whether he can sustain this success remains to be seen, but he will deserve all of the attention that he will receive during the months to come.  Winning a major for the first time at age 28, when most players have started to wind down their careers, is a rare achievement that rewards his hard work and perseverance.  

Despite the strange, anticlimactic ending, this Australian Open featured plenty of intriguing storylines to discuss.  Check back in a day or two for a report card on the men's field.