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Nadal did not want to forfeit final due to injury

The Age logo The Age 26/01/2014 Jake Niall
n © AAP Image/Made Nagi n

Rafael Nadal's back was to the wall before it was manipulated by a trainer. The injury should not obscure what happened in the first set and two games of this match. That Nadal's back problem slowed his movement and subsequently saw him serving at half rat power doesn't necessarily mean the back cost him the championship.

When Nadal called for a medical time-out, Stan Wawrinka was well placed to cause one of the most monumental upsets in grand slam finals history. Lest we forget the insurgent led 6-3 and 2-1, with a service break in the bank. Stan had Nadal in major strife, albeit the champion first felt the back ''a little'' in the warm-up.

While Nadal said the back was sore in the first set, this was not evident until just before the trainer arrived; as he suggested, the injury worsened ''at the beginning of the second (set)'' when he served. The back became ''very stiff'' in what Nadal called ''the key moment.''

As much as the focus inevitably falls on Nadal's injury, the severity of it and the fact that Nadal was forced into a submissive position, it should not be forgotten what Wawrinka, the long odds underdog, managed to achieve. Strangely, the pattern of the match actually shifted when Nadal seemed to be crippled and on the brink of a default.

Paradoxically, the injury unsettled Wawrinka for a time.

Wawrinka then faltered, tensed up and lost belief. It was as though he was fearful of victory. Nadal, commendably, fought through the pain - with a little help - and, against all logic and reality, reversed the momentum. Wawrinka's magic ceased. Nadal survived, and the longer he hung in, the greater Wawrinka's doubts.

He had discovered how to play Nadal, but he had not yet mastered the occasion. Nadal's problems were his body; Wawrinka's in the mind. ''I  hope you're back  is going to be fine,'' said Wawrinka in his acceptance - the injury had been very much in the Swiss player's thoughts.

But, despite his missteps in the third and fourth sets, Stan Wawrinka succeeded where his decorated compatriot Roger Federer failed, because he took Nadal on. No one, besides Novak Djokovic, matches Nadal at the backcourt; to engage Nadal in rallies is a form of surrender.

Wawrinka and his Swedish coach (Magnus Norman) adopted the game plan that Federer and his Swedish advisor (Stefan Edberg) intended to use - to be aggressive, to move forward, to shorten points, to go after Nadal's serve. But where Federer was meek and feeble and could not execute, Wawrinka was bold.

Wawrinka would not allow the match to be a marathon, even it it lasted five sets. The duration of the contest is telling - just two hours and 21 minutes; in some Nadal matches, this barely covers two sets. Almost three quarters involved no more than four shots and Stan won 84 of those 146 staccato duels.

Where Federer's backhand failed repeatedly - 40 errors and two winners - in the face of Rafa's vicious spin and depth, Wawrinka's one-hander held up - it is a superior shot. He landed winners galore on both wings. ''He was playing amazing,'' said Nadal.

Where Federer missed first set opportunities - forehands and volleys that he ought to have nailed - fearless Stan grasped them.

Wawrinka made errors. His unforced error count of 49 was almost equal to Federer's blunder tally (50, in three sets). The difference was that he more than compensated with returns and winners (53 to Nadal's 19).

It's incredible that Wawrinka blew Nadal off the court in the opening set, despite landing 38 percent of his first serves, compared to Nadal's 73 percent. Wawrinka  managed this for two reasons. One was that his second serve was so potent - John Newcombe's adage that ''you're only as good as your second serve'' held true. Wawrinka held serve from 0-40, despite landing only one of eight first serves in that pivotal game (5-3) when Stan served for the set.

Wawrinka's loss of focus proved temporary. It was almost as if he needed the match to tighten up before he could regain his free-hitting mojo. ''The only way for me to win was mistakes from the opponent, because I was serving too slow and too predictable,'' said Nadal of this period.

And so the coronation of Nadal was foiled. Past monarchs Rod Laver and Pete Sampras were in the cathedral's front rows, alongside Australian Lords of the court Ken Rosewall, Ken Sedgman and Ashley Cooper. We prepared for King Rafael of Spain to accept another crown.

No one, besides the Wawrinka camp and an optimistic Federer, could see any result besides another triumph for Nadal, who was slated to equal Sampras with 14 grand slam titles and become the subject of ''best ever'' debates. Wawrinka had not taken a set from, much less beaten, the world no 1 in 12 encounters.

But Wawrinka noted that he had also had a lopsided history against the Djoker and had slain him. Form would trump history in this event; it would be 13th time lucky.

Wawrinka, another of the game's late bloomers, is the highest ranked Swiss player today (no 3). He, like Federer, had a negative record against Rafa. He, like Federer, had a Swedish coach. He, like Federer, had a one-handed backhand that might have been spun into submission.

But, unlike the legendary Swiss, Stan Wawrinka did not miss.

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