Stanislas Warinka beat a wounded world number one, Rafael Nadal, to lay claim to the Australian Open championship title, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. But most of all, Stan beat Tennis Hate out on Rod Laver Arena. It was really starting to push Wawrinka around in that third set.
Wawrinka was a Stanimal at the start, doing the unthinkable: he won the first set. He'd never won a set against Nadal in their 12 previous meetings. Wawrinka also got an early break in the second against Nadal when Rafa's back seized up, apparently on a first serve. Rafa bent over at the baseline and squeezed his eyes shut in pain.
It's rare to see that from Nadal. The guy plays with pain all the time. He's got two creaky knees, one that kept him out for 7 months and caused him to miss last year's Australian Open. He's been playing with a huge blister on his hand. So to see Nadal doubled over like that, and breaking down briefly into a towel, you knew whatever he was feeling in his lower spine had to be bad. But the crowd thought it was gamesmanship, and booed Rafa when he took an injury time out. Even Stan was barking at the umpire.
Wawrinka kept his cool and closed out that second set. But, as ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert puts it in his classic, Winning Ugly, "Beware the Wounded Bear." And beware the Wounded Bear on Vicodin. Especially Rafa Nadal. The guy came back last year after a seven-month break to tend to one of his many knee problems to tear through the 2013 season and return to the number one spot. You knew he wasn't going to let Wawrinka win in straight sets.
Wawrinka must have been thinking the same thing -- I can't let one of the greatest players ever to lose another set! -- so he gifted Nadal with the third set. He wrapped it up with unforced errors and tied it with a bow by letting go of two break point opportunities.
Stan almost let it go in the fourth set, too. He was the first to break, getting Rafa to go up 3-2. But nerves and Wawrinka's old story of being the Fighting Failure got to him. (The tattoo on his left arm is a Beckett quotation, ''Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.'') He couldn't buy a point in the sixth game and gave the break right back at 0-40.
Maybe Wawrinka re-read his tat during the changeover and decided that the way to fail better is to win. Stan brought Rafa to another nervy 15-40 spot. He looked at his box, pointed to his head and punched it a few times. That must've rattled something into place, because Wawrinka seized the moment, the game, and, serving it out at 5-3, the fourth set, the match and the tournament.
Maybe Wawrinka re-read his tat during the changeover and decided that the way to fail better is to win.
It took Wawrinka a few beats to even acknowledge his winning shot, a gutsy inside-in forehand from inside the service that he blew down the line into the corner of the deuce court. Nadal, who usually owns the baseline, a champion defender, a guy who gets to every ball, just stood there, flat-footed, and watched it sail past.
It's the 28-year-old Wawrinka's first Grand Slam victory. He becomes the number 3 player in the world. That other Swiss, Roger Federer? He drops from 6th to 8th.
Wawrinka was muted in his victory celebration. He wasn't beaming or bumping his chest (Djokovic) or pointing to the sky (Murray) or doing wirlygigs (Tsonga). He just smiled.
He said during the trophy ceremony that he was still wondering whether he had won. "Last year I had a crazy match, I was crying a lot after that match," he said of his five-set heartbreak against Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16. "Let's see if I'm still dreaming."
To Rafael Nadal, he said, "Your back is going to be fine."
Down Under, everything is topsy-turvy and upside-down. It's been a tournament of upsets. Rod Laver Arena is where Nadal and Djokovic sat down during the 2012 awards presentations after their epic, record-shattering five-hour, 53 minute final. It's where the usually calm, cool and collected Federer became undone and wept openly after his 2009 loss to Nadal.
Now it was Nadal who was tearing up as he accepted the runner-up trophy. "I'm sorry to finish this way. I tried very, very hard."
He called it was one of the most emotional tournaments of his career.