January 23, 2014
Who isn’t delighted for Stanislas Wawrinka? His four-set victory over Tomas Berdych means that Stan The Man has earned his reward for all the great entertainment he has given us in recent times. Those epic five-setters against Novak Djokovic, all those years of trying to break into the sport’s elite…now Wawrinka has something to show for his efforts. Stan is in his first Grand Slam Final on merit.
He has earned his place the hard way, through sheer endeavour and guts. He has learnt how to become a consistent threat at Grand Slams against more talented players. Stan wasn’t blessed with an athletic build but he has used his chunky frame to extraordinary effect. Now he has become a player to fear.
Could Wawrinka possibly beat Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer in a Melbourne final? The answer is yes, if he doesn’t submit to big-match nerves. That outcome isn’t probable, of course, but at the same time you can’t rule Stan out either. If he stays true to his flowing, pugnacious, bruising style of tennis, he has already shown that he can live with the big boys. And it might just be that Rafa and Roger punch themselves out in their own semi-final and don’t leave enough in the tank to defeat a fighter like Wawrinka too. Stan will have more time to rest before the showpiece – and that could prove crucial.
I still tip Nadal to take the title though, despite Roger’s impressive form of late. We can look forward to a scintillating second semi-final, that’s for sure. Roger feels in great shape and insists his 32 years don’t hold him back. He will have to prove it against Nadal. If the Spaniard beats Federer he should defeat Wawrinka too. In a straight fight with Stan, the true warrior in Rafa should prevail.
But if Federer beats Rafa against the odds, will he also have enough left in his reserves to edge his fellow Swiss in the final? I’m not so sure, though tennis-lovers would relish the occasion, with a romantic outcome inevitable whoever wins. How can anyone confidently predict anything at Melbourne, after what has happened already?
Dominika Cibulkova continues to destroy all-comers, with Radwanska her latest victim. Its like watching Mighty Mouse. The Slovakian pocket power-house looks invincible. Can Li Na stop her in her tracks to take the title?
I’m not afraid to say I hope so. Li Na won’t have many more chances to take her second Grand Slam title and seal the rise of tennis in the Far East. Cibulokova, you suspect, will have many more opportunities. Li Na has such an endearing personality, she is such a fine ambassador for the game. Cibulkova is just too intense to come across as particularly conscious of anything but her own extreme hunger for victory. Experience, confidence and status will change that, of course.
But maybe Roger and Li Na would be our perfect Melbourne 2014 winners, to be celebrated and adored while we can still do so.
Still, if Wawrinka completes his own unlikely fairytale, I for one will be cheering too!