It wasn't meant to be for Nadal


MELBOURNE, Australia -- He tried not to cry, not to make it about his loss and not to exaggerate the importance of his suffering.

He even begged reporters to stop asking about his injured back because, as Rafael Nadal said following one of the stranger and more painful Grand Slam finals in recent memory, "This is Stan's day, not my day."

But much like the match that preceded it, he was fighting a losing battle.

This was indeed about Stanislas Wawrinka winning the Australian Open, his first career Grand Slam title, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Sunday night. But it was also about the greatest player in the game, his will to compete and the effect an injury to one player can have on both players.

For a while, it was hard to tell which player Nadal's back hurt more. Having thoroughly outplayed Nadal in the first set with both players seemingly at full strength, Wawrinka suffered right along with the world No. 1 after Nadal aggravated the injury (which he said he first felt during warm-ups) down a break in the third game of the second set.

An eerily quiet, largely immobile Nadal seemed to be just trying to stay on court initially, then to get to the end of the second set, to somehow push it to a fourth and, finally, unbelievably, to win.

But if Nadal was reduced to half-strength or worse physically, so too was Wawrinka mentally.

"I was moving well, feeling really aggressive, and I played my best set for sure by far [in the first]," Wawrinka said. "Then [it] wasn't easy. He got [injured]. I saw that. He wasn't serving at all. He wasn't moving during one set. Then [it] was a completely different match. I had to focus on myself, to try to find the way just to win it.

"I knew it was really, really difficult for him. I was unhappy for that because, normally, that's not the way I want to win the match. But it's a final. At the end, I won in four sets. I think I finished the match. To get the win, it's just amazing for me."

Long toiling in the shadow of Swiss countryman Roger Federer, Wawrinka will move up from No. 8 to No. 3 in the ATP rankings after becoming the first man in 20 years of this tournament to beat the No. 2 seed ( Novak Djokovic) and No. 1 en route to the title.

"I still think I'm dreaming," Wawrinka said. "It's such a strange feeling. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slam because that's where the best players are playing. … I never expect to play a final. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. And especially the way I was playing [the whole] tournament, it's for me a big surprise to play that well. To beat Rafa today, even if he was injured, I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak in the quarter, to beat [Tomas] Berdych in semis.

"That shows me I'm doing the right thing. That if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis."

The two men embraced at the net in a muted celebration for Wawrinka. Nadal teared up as he was lauded for being a role model in the trophy ceremony, succumbing again as he waited for his postmatch news conference to begin.

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