by Karolina Golabek
The 2014 Australian Open was a joy to behold to the sports community.
The numerous upsets—Djokovic, Nadal, Williams, Azarenka, Sharapova—the emergence of young stars—Eugenie Bouchard, Grigor Dimitrov—the “return” of Federer, and finally the unlikely champions—Li Na and Stanislas Wawrinka, provided every casual and die-hard fan of tennis something to remember.
Wawrinka became just the second man to win a major over the past 36 opportunities during the “reign” of the Big Four, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray.
He defeated Rafael Nadal in a bizarre final on Sunday, Jan. 26, that lasted two hours and 24 minutes. The Swiss also became the first man to defeat the two top seeds at a Grand Slam since 1993.
The final score was 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, but Wawrinka’s chances looked weak before the match, despite his victory over three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
He was unable to win a set against Nadal in their previous 12 meetings. And finally, no one has ever beaten Djokovic and Nadal in the same tournament.
Nonetheless, it was Wawrinka who came out calm and confident in the first set, while Nadal looked anxious.
Wawrinka was able to close out the set at 5-3 after trailing 0-40. In the third game of the second set, Nadal missed a routine backhand, grabbed his back and immediately called for the trainer.
He went to an on-site training room. Wawrinka won the set 6-2, but it was clear that Nadal was barely able to move.
“[The] last thing that I wanted to do was retirement,” Nadal said. “I hate to do that, especially in a final. Same time, is tough to see yourself during the whole year you are working for a moment like this, and arrives the moment and you feel that you are not able to play at your best.”
When a player cannot move, he/she changes his/hers game plan, as did Nadal. Wawrinka did not handle Nadal’s off-speed, slice serves well, in the third set. His own game declined under the pressure.
Nadal eventually clinched the set 6-3, and what was more worrying for Wawrinka, it appeared that Nadal was becoming more mobile. It is baffling that when Nadal could barely move, Wawrinka did not take a page out of Jerzy Janowicz’s book and attempt a single drop shot.
Wawrinka’s nerves were difficult to settle at the beginning of the fourth set, but he ultimately broke Nadal at 4-3 and served for the trophy.
The Swiss did not dramatically celebrate his victory, showing his class and utmost respect for his opponent. Wawrinka simply raised his arms and jogged to the net, shook Nadal’s hand and expressed his concern and sympathy.
“Stan the Grand Slam Man,” is now ranked No. 3 in the world, becoming the highest ranked Swiss player (considering that Roger Federer is the “other” Swiss man, I would say this is an unbelievable accomplishment for Wawrinka).
What does this mean for the rest of the locker room? Stan’s victory gives hope to other players outside of the Big Four: del Potro, Berdych, Ferrer, Tsonga and the young players–Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov.
But the top guys will not give in. Djokovic is too steady and too committed to simply go away. He has now gone a full year without winning a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2010.
However, as a die-hard Nole fan, I believe in his ability to put this tournament behind him.
I maintain that Novak’s focus will be on the French Open. He will try to make a statement on Nadal’s turf.
Roger Federer finally found his form. He played his best tennis in more than a year with two impressive wins over Tsonga and Murray.
Yet again, to the dismay of me and fellow Fed fans, he still cannot find a way past Nadal. But he proved he can win with anyone at 32 (everyone except Nadal perhaps) and still has Major potential.
On the women’s side, Li Na of China defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-6(3), 6-0 in her third Aussie Open final, winning her second Grand Slam title.
The two were clearly nervous during the first set, especially Li. It was the first time she was the heavy favorite in a final.
Li’s victory comes after a serious consideration of retirement on her part after last year’s French Open.
After getting broken while serving for the set at 6-5, Li finally found her form and won the tiebreak 7-3. Her level did not fall, as displayed by her 6-0 dominant victory in the second set.
Her speech at the trophy presentation ceremony did not disappoint. She thanked her manager for “making [her] rich” and her husband for “being a nice guy” and “being lucky enough to have met [her].”
Cibulkova, the 20 seed, had an outstanding tournament upsetting Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska. The latter defeated the heavy favorite Victoria Azarenka in a tough three-setter.
As a fellow Pole, I am extremely proud of Radwanska, but just like at the 2013 Wimbledon, the top seeds were gone, but Radwanska still failed to make the final.
What about Serena?
She lost in the fourth round to former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. I am tired of the American media idolizing her. Foreign media all recognize that Serena is a supreme athlete (which she is), but they do not form her into the superhuman, unbeatable goddess Serena that she is portrayed as here.
Shall I remind everyone of her outbursts against chair umpires, bickering with other players off court and absolute self-absorption? So, yes, I clearly do not want her to win, but at the same time I do not want Nadal to win.
The difference becomes the fact that I respect Nadal as a person and as an athlete because of his class, compassion and talent. I do not root for him simply because of my loyalty to both Federer and Djokovic.
The way he refused to quit during the final against Wawrinka displays his dedication and respect for the sport and his fellow players. I just do not see that with Serena.
We can acknowledge her skill, but we shouldn’t disrespect other players by saying they have “no chance” against her.
If we should take anything out of the 2014 Australian Open, it is that we should never count anyone out—no matter how old, how young, how successful, how hopeless or how unlikely. 2014 will surely provide us with more surprises.