Wow….Wawrinka!!! 3 cheers! Wonderful display of power-packed tennis at Rod Laver arena at Melbourne Park, Australia, and he swept aside world#1 and seeded#1 here, Rafael Nadal off his feet right in front of legendary Rod Laver, among others. But more about it, a little later; first, a recap of what happened during the fortnight at this tournament.
The first week at Melbourne Park in this year’s opening Asia-Pacific Grand Slam event – 102nd edition – was more in the news for players, ball-boys and spectators- all bearing the brunt of sweltering heat that, at times, hovered around 43 degrees Celsius. Skillful and competitive tennis during this period remained somewhat subdued. This had a direct bearing on the 9 first round retirements – 8 men, 1 woman – that equaled record for most retirements in any grand slam event.
Thankfully, with rains intervening, the tournament into its second week turned out to be a much more weather-friendly and witnessed some of the intensely fought matches. In the stunning upsets, however, Serena Williams (#1seed), Maria Sharapova(#4 seed) fell early at pre-quarterfinals owing largely to injuries they were carrying.
Both singles defending champions – Novak Djokovic, three-time winner here in men’s section and Victoria Azharenka, two-time winner here in women’s, lost in the quarterfinals and failed to defend their titles this time round.
Ana Ivanovic, Samantha Stosure and Caroline Vozniaki – all top players and winners of grand slam event in the past in women’s section, were eliminated early by the new crop of emerging players and thus leaving the field open for bright young stars to shine and make their presence felt. It was here when this tournament witnessed the emergence of bright young stars in women’s section in the form of G Muguruza (Spain), Eugenie Bouchard (19 years) (Canada) and Dominika Cibilkova (Slovakia), the latter making it to the finals as well.
In the women’s singles final between Li Na (31 years) (China: # 4 seed) and Cibilkova (24 years) (#20 seed), the match seemed headed for some keen contest when the first set got into the tie breaker where, in the end, the Chinese prevailed. Li Na, there on, drawing on her experiences of couple of appearances in finals here (2009 and 2011), never seemed to put her foot off pedal and won the second and final, and with it the title, with consummate ease at 6-0. It was the first time ever that a Chinese, and an Asian befittingly has won this tournament that’s hailed as Asia-Pacific’s Grand Slam event.
Cibulkova, the losing finalist, contrary to what one is used to witnessing, was seen wearing smile, showing no signs of any negative emotions and regrets and, in fact, in her post-match- presentation-function she went on to say that it was the fantastic two weeks of her life she has had. It was obviously an otherwise a scene, quite different from the one, where the loser, at the end of the finals, is often seen looking for someone to borrow a shoulder to shed a few tears on. After all, in the professional tennis circuit a win or a loss, particularly in finals, makes a hell of difference in terms of prize money and the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rankings.
Quite in contrast to this, a day later, one could easily see the kind of emotional breakdown Nadal was struggling to hold back and was occasionally seen wiping off tears ready to roll down his cheeks during the post match presentation ceremony.
Ahead of summit clash, Stanislas Wawrinka (# 8 seed) acknowledging that even while he had never beaten Nadal in their 12 previous encounters, he wasn’t, however, overawed by the occasion and was instead focusing on to put it across the #1 seed. The proceedings started in a whirlwind fashion and those who had imagined Nadal taking the initiatives early on, were truly in for huge surprise as Wawrinka took the first two sets: 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal taking the ‘medical time out’ (3 minutes) during 2nd Set meant all was not well with his full physical fitness. Earlier, during quarter finals and semi finals matches against Dimitrov (Bulgaria) and Roger Federer respectively, he after getting treated for a blister in his left playing palm, went on to win. He, however, seemed to be running out of luck in final; a back pain that seemed aggravated, halted his indomitable spirit he is known for, to continue his fight on. Even though he clinched the 3rd Set at 6-3, Wawrinka came back strongly to claim the 4th and with it the championship title.
Beating world#1 and world#2 in a tournament has brought rich dividend for this Swiss player who has, in the past, always been overshadowed by his more illustrious compatriot Roger Federer. Now at long last he has a place in the sun, his first Grand Slam title. And when the fresh ATP rankings are out a day later on Monday, he is at #3, his best ever in his professional career.
At the end of the day, moreover, the winner in men’s and women’s singles are richer by the prize money of 2.65 million US Dollar while the finalists by 1.325 million Dollars.