When the customary fireworks light-up the Melbourne sky in the evening of 26th January, celebrating Australia Day, the Other Swiss will be playing his first ever Slam final. After 12-days of labour, Stanislas Wawrinka will be sharing the centre stage with none other than, Rafael Nadal at the historic Rod Laver Arena.
The journey so far, in this edition of Australian Open, for the 8th seeded player has been more about living, rather realising a dream. Reason being, despite his consistent form in the last couple of years, Wawrinka has for too long lived under the shadow of Swiss maestro – Roger Federer. Despite a worldwide clamour, a possible all-Swiss final in the Melbourne Park was thwarted by the Spanish Armada. Ironically, he has been destined to face that force in the summit clash on Sunday.
Going onto the season-opening Grand Slam, the big Stan captured the prep in Chennai. The previous season, he entered four finals in the ATP tour. But managed to win only one, that of Portugal Open, defeating David Ferrer. And in the Majors, besides the Wimbledon first round exit, he reached at least the fourth round in the other three. That`s where, in these grandest stages, he showed his intent.
In the final Grand Slam of 2013, the Swiss run into the then World No.1 Novak Djokovic again, following their five-hour long slugfest in the fourth round of 2013 Australian Open. Despite another heart-breaking five-set lost to the Serbian at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Stan returned home victorious, becoming a player, larger than himself, with lot more fans cheering for him. In fact, the semi-final defeat in New York was his 12th such successive loss against Djokovic, eventually the losing streak was extended to 14 by the end of the season.
However, all in all, the run-up to 2014 Australian Open was satisfactory one for a player trying to compete with the big boys of the modern tennis. For that he needed much more hard work, more sacrifices and lot more time in the court. Besides the labour and dedication, he also added a rather embolden statement, er a tattoo in his left arm, a Samuel Beckett decryption of life - Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better!
Here is how the 28-year-old Swiss got the chance to shot at his first Major trophy, round by round:
First Round: Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan; Retired
Became the first player in the men`s draw to enter the second round. The 85th ranked player in world retired with calf injury. The 26-year-old Kazakh, was trailing the the 8th seeded Swiss 4-1 in the second set after conceding the opening set 6-4.
Second Round: Alejandro Falla of Colombia; 6-3,6-3,(4)6-7,6-4
First test came in the guise of 87th ranked, unseeded Colombian. The second round match, which lasted just under three under, under the scorching Melbourne heat saw Wawrinka`s grit and power. After easy opening two sets, Fella won the third set tie-breaker 7-4. However, two breaks of service to Fella`s one sealed the match in favour of the Swiss.
Third Round: Vasek Pospisil (28) of Canada; Walkover
A favour from the 28th seeded player from Pospisil. The 24-year-old Canadian withdrew from the tournament with a back injury, sustained during his second round victory over Australian Matt Ebden.
Fourth Round: Tommy Robredo (17) of Spain; 6-3,7-6(3),7-6(5)
Despite the scoreboard reading a straight set victory, the fourth round match witnessed Wawrinka scurrying and using all his tricks to win the two final sets in tie-breaks. The Spaniard had forced Wawrinka to 37 forced errors, including three double faults. But a high percentage of first serve points won, nearly 90%, helped the Swiss` cause.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic (2) of Serbia: 2-6,6-4,6-2,3-6,9-7
It was billed as the grudge match for the lower ranked player. But Wawrinka used it, instead, as a probable career defining one. The four-hour long match at Rod Laver Arena once again relived the previous year`s fourth round match between these two players, but with a different result. This time in favour of the Swiss war-horse.
After winning the deciding set after 79 minutes, still a visibly effusive Wawrinka pointed finger to his temple, probably telling his mind is ready for such games. Last time around, the result was decided by mettle, rather than class, on that particular night. This time too, it was mettle.
Postscript: Djoker`s reign in Australian Open over.
Semifinals: Tomas Berdych (7) of Czech Republic; 6-3,(1)6-7,7-6(3),7-6(4)
Alongside David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych is widely regarded as the most consistent player on the tour. When these players met in the quarter-finals, pundits were expecting a classic. But when the match ended after four sets, in favour of the seventh seeded player, it was evident that the semi-final will be as tough as it gets for the Swiss.
And it was.
The final three sets were decided on tie-breaks, with first two lasting almost an hour each and the final one over an hour.
Wawrinka had won 143 total points to Berdych`s 142, 49 Unforced errors each, and 57 winners to 60 for the Czech. To sum it up.