Common sense will prevail
In spirit, Mr. Tennis Editor, I am with you.
Nobody pulls for the underdog more than me, and, under different circumstances, I would strain a hamstring -- and perhaps even a few metaphors -- to will Stanislas Wawrinka to victory over Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final.
He's a good guy, deserving of unprecedented success after his 28th birthday. I spoke with him by phone from Europe at the end of last season and was struck by his earnestness and sincerity.
But, at some point, sanity must prevail.
I have a dozen reasons that suggest Nadal will win this title, denying Wawrinka his first Grand Slam singles title. Actually, if I did the math correctly, I have 26 reasons.
They met for the first time right here in Melbourne, seven years ago in the third round. Nadal, 20 at the time, and Wawrinka (then 21) and the Spaniard, who had already won two French Open titles, took out Wawrinka in straight sets. It was to be a trend of sorts.
For, as the venue changed to Stuttgart and Paris, Miami and Rome, the result was always precisely the same. Their most recent meeting, at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, was also a straight-sets victory for Rafa. He has won each of the 26 sets they have played, which is a heavy, horrible history for Wawrinka to even contemplate reversing.
Now, you say that he ended a 0-for-14 run against Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals? True enough. Problem is, this is Nadal, a man who seems bent on catching Roger Federer's career record of 17 majors -- wait for it -- sometime next year. Who would have thought that possible a year ago when he was in the midst of a seven-month absence with damaged knees?
There is one small shred, I suppose. When they played most recently in London, Wawrinka lost in two tiebreakers and actually won more points (83) than Rafa (80). Still, do you really believe Nadal will find a way to lose in this ultimate setting?
Not when history beckons. Not when he can lock down his second Aussie title, giving him a double career Grand Slam. Not when Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray are all watching this from the sideline. No.
It says here that Rafa will, to use your word, lick Wawrinka with something approaching ease.
Nadal in three
Destiny on Wawrinka's side
If anything, Mr. Garber, I am an optimist. Someday, I will be able to lick my own elbows. Go ahead, try it. I know you did.
It might be that no one in tennis is more deserving of a Grand Slam title than this Swiss, who not only has dug himself out of the shadows of Roger Federer but who has overcome a lot of on-court heartbreak in the past year -- all in one tournament, no less.
This is Wawrinka's career-defining moment, a chance to wedge his name in with all the other champions of tennis. And, if he's going to do it, the Aussie Open seems like the best place. Before Federer and Djokovic made their runs, Melbourne was the home of quite a few unlikely winners, including Tomas Johansson, Yevgeny Kafelnikov (who also won the French), Petr Korda and, if you want to go way back, Roscoe Tanner, a player you know something about.
And, lest we forget, what about Brian Teacher in 1980? He was the last eighth seed to make the Aussie final, and it just so happens he won the whole dang thing.
Hey, what do you know? Wawrinka is the eighth seed. Coincidence? I think not. Sure, I get Wawrinka's opponent is a 13-time Slam champion and a perfect 12-0 against him. But I am also keenly aware that Nadal has labored through a few matches -- against talented Kei Nishikori in the fourth round and in the quarters, when Grigor Dimitrov gave him a real tussle.
And, although Nadal was able to pick apart Federer's backhand Friday, he won't have that luxury against Wawrinka, who has one of the best in the game.
This final is about Wawrinka's destiny; at least, it should be if the tennis gods have any say. This is his 36th major appearance, and he has no titles to show for it. No one should suffer that much, especially Wawrinka, who will officially unseat Federer as the top-ranked Swiss when the new rankings are released Monday.
Look, the men's game has been monopolized by the same players for so long. Wawrinka just needed a little, you know, elbow room to make his move.
Wawrinka in five