Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will do battle on Friday with the winner facing in-form Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday’s final.
Despite their high standing in the tennis world, Nadal and Federer will both be aware that the final is unlikely to be a cakewalk should they get there, with Wawrinka the form player in this year’s tournament.
Wawrinka’s path to the final
Seeded eighth at Melbourne, Wawrinka was always expected to reach the quarters of the competition, but what he did when he arrived there was something entirely unexpected.
The Swiss number two went toe-to-toe with former world number one Novak Djokovic, eventually prevailing 9-7 in the final set. The result – although highly impressive – is even more notable when we consider Djokovic’s past form at Melbourne. Before bowing out to Wawrinka, the Serb had not lost at the Australian Open since 2010, clinching the last three titles on his way to the coveted spot of number one in the world. The Australian Open is Djokovic’s tournament, but even he was unable to live with the brilliance of Wawrinka.
The world number two was honest and open in his assessment of the game, admitting that although he had given it his “best”, that had not been enough to overcome the Swiss.
What was perhaps almost as surprising as the victory over Djokovic was the way that Wawrinka approached his semi final against Tomas Berdych. It is not altogether rare to see an upset like the one that occurred in the quarter final, but it is far less common to see that upset then backed up with another convincing performance. This was precisely what happened in Melbourne, with a highly efficient performance from Wawrinka dealing with seventh seed Berdych in a mere four sets.
Two years older than the class of Murray, Nadal and Djokovic, Wawrinka is a late bloomer, and Sunday’s final will be the first Grand Slam final of his career. Given that he now has a victory against Djokovic to go with his three wins against Andy Murray, there’s a good chance it won’t be his last. Whether he has what it takes to beat the energetic Spaniard or his wily compatriot remains to be seen, but regardless of what happens on Sunday, Wawrinka should be very proud of his performance in Melbourne this year.
(Ends Monday Feburary 27th at 11:59pm)
Who will win the final?
As I write, Nadal and Federer are yet to play their semi final, so it’s difficult to comment on who is likely to be crowned 2014 Australian Open champion. Despite Federer’s renaissance against Andy Murray, I am of the opinion that Nadal’s pace and power will be too much for the former world number one, and with that in mind, the Spaniard would be my tip for the title.
However, from the point of view of a sporting spectacle, it would be nice to see Federer make it through, not only because it would show that the old master still has miles in the tank, but also because it would make for a far more intriguing showdown on Sunday. Wawrinka knows Federer’s game very well, having played doubles with his friend on a number of occasions. My suspicion is that Wawrinka doesn’t have enough in his locker to contain Nadal, but that he has a far better chance of toppling his compatriot.
Li and Cibulkova to do battle in the final
No offence to American fans, but I’m pretty sure most women’s tennis fans breathed a sigh of relief when Serena Williams was knocked out by Ana Ivanovic.
Serena is a wonderful talent, but her domination of the women’s game has become a trifle – dare I say it – boring, and it is for that reason and that reason alone that fans all over the globe welcomed the chance for other players to win a title.
Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova are two grateful recipients of Serena’s exit, with Li likely to have faced the American if she had progressed further. The Hubei-born Li is the strong favourite for the clash, and given that she has proven Grand Slam pedigree with one French Open title and two runners-up medals at the Australian, it’s not hard to see why.
Nonetheless, the matchup is a long way from a foregone conclusion, and given Cibulkova’s thrashing of fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, Li will need to be on form if she is to prevent Cibulkova from managing another upset. In fact, the manner of the Slovak’s win against Radwanska was so rampant that Li could be forgiven for being more than a little wary of their matchup on Saturday.
This is the sort of competition that has been lacking in women’s tennis, and for that reason, I welcome upsets like Serena’s exit. Not since the days of Monica Seles, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova have we seen real jostling for Grand Slams and the tennis world needs to see them again.
Let’s hope Saturday’s final is a real cracker and helps the world see once again why women’s tennis is such an intriguing sport.