How the shepherd boy beat the beast


Stanislas Wawrinka had no business winning the Australian Open. None whatsoever. Not for a guy who had no experience in a major final. Not for a guy who had been whitewashed, wrecked and broken over and over by Rafael Nadal in their 12 previous matches. Not for a guy whose motto is to fail the best he can.

Coming into the final, there was nothing outside an unlikely visit from the ghost of Rod Laver wearing Swiss colors to suggest Wawrinka could pull off an upset over the top player in the world, the one who was a sizable 1/6 favorite. Wawrinka was just too big a longshot, too small an opponent -- except for this one small oversight:

Perhaps he was never the underdog in the first place.

More than 3,000 years earlier, in the Valley of Elah somewhere in southwest Jerusalem, a young man named David had a death wish. He had the impossible task of fighting a lumbering 9-foot giant they called Goliath. "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the fowls of the heaven and to the beasts of the field," Goliath is said to have shouted out at David, bating him to do battle.

An experienced warrior versus a shepherd boy. Smart money said go with the warrior -- no matter what the odds. Goliath, after all, had made a nice living in the departments of hurling threats and instigating terror.

But as Malcolm Gladwell wrote in "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants," things weren't exactly what they seemed after taking an extensive look into the nuances of their famous encounter.

Goliath, though he had a long fighting pedigree and an intimidating size advantage, approached the battle against his seemingly more delicate opponent with tunnel vision of sorts. He wanted to square off in hand-to-hand combat with swords, spears and javelins, while David, who knew the big man could neither move nor, as the story goes, see very well, came armed with nothing but a stone, a sling -- and a plan. It turns out, that was far more devastating weaponry than anything Goliath could offer.

By now, we all know how it turned out. As Gladwell wrote, the ballistics on the stone David sank into the hole of Goliath's armor, the one that killed the giant instantly, would have been akin to a .45 caliber pistol.

Despite everything we thought, Goliath was a sitting duck all along -- it just wasn't obvious to anyone but David.

In his book, Gladwell defines underdog as improbable victories by a weak party over someone much stronger. If you aren't familiar with his workings, you probably thought he had Stan Wawrinka in mind when he wrote it, and who can blame you? Look at the history the eventual Aussie champ was up against:

• In 35 previous Slam appearances, he never had a sniff at a final.

• No eighth seed had won Oz since 1980.

• No player had beaten the top two seeds en route to a Slam title since Sergi Bruguera in 1993.

• No player had ever vanquished Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the same Slam.

• Wawrinka was 0-26 against the world's top two heading into the Aussie

But Wawrinka acted like anything but an underdog throughout the entire tourney.

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