After remaining in the shadow of the 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer for most part of his career, Stanislas Wawrinka stamped his presence felt at the Australian Open 2014. The kind of tennis he displayed at the Rod Laver Arena prior to the final, many believed, he could give a tough fight to the World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who had been at his usual best, despite struggling with a blister on his left-hand palm. The only worry for Stan`s fans was, whether he could handle the pressure of playing in his maiden Grand Slam final against Rafa.
While both these players posed together for the customary photographs prior to the match, Wawrinka certainly carried a better smile than Nadal. And the anticipation of Wawrinka being under pressure, was put to rest, when the 28-year-old nonchalantly asked the kid at the toss ceremony to call for him. "Heads" was the call which Wawrinka lost, but the Swiss fans must have had a good feeling about their new hero being so composed ahead of a unique final.
The entire tennis fraternity was eager to see, whether Wawrinka would be able to do all that was needed to give a neck-to-neck fight to Nadal. And once that cross-court backhand found its rhythm, it was Wawrinka`s match to win. While Federer failed miserably at the serve-and-volley approach against Nadal, Wawrinka stood up for the challenge and dominated the proceedings from the baseline. His brilliance on the court was once again evident when he saved three break points while serving for the first set at 5-3, and then served an ace to win his first set ever against Nadal.
Rafa fans would argue he was injured and wasn`t at his best. But that happened only while the Spaniard was trailing 1-2 in the second set. For someone who hadn`t won a set against Rafael Nadal in their 12 previous meetings, overcoming the mighty Spaniard in just 37 minutes to the win the first set, is in itself an effort from Stan that required immense confidence and determination. Wawrinka could have settled for nothing less than the Australian Open trophy.
The calibre of Wawrinka is evident from the fact that he defeated the World No. 2 and World No. 1 in the same Grand Slam tournament. The loss against Djokovic last year in an epic five-setter had left him into tears for long, which he confessed in the post-match speech at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday. But one has to agree, this guy deserved to win a Grand Slam. While victory this time against Djokovic gave him immense confidence, the decisive win against Rafa has brought him out of Federer`s shadow forever. Switzerland have a new hero who much deservedly is the new Swiss No. 1 besides being the new World No. 3.
It is difficult to believe that Wawrinka had to wait for 36 Grand Slam tournaments to lift his first Major trophy. But Wawrinka looked a different player at this year`s Australian Open. He tried his best to keep himself composed, compared to occasions where a racket would be at the receiving end, whenever the tide went against him.
Switzerland would be all prepared to give their new hero a grand welcome. So would be his wife and his little daughter – two people whom Stan has badly missed in the last two weeks. After witnessing close defeats and fighting tears after losses, it`s time for Wawrinka to celebrate his emphatic win with his loved ones.