Rafael Nadal is one of the most dogged players ever seen in history; his intensity is known to intimidate his opponents even before they step on the court. But when Stan Wawrinka was getting ready to face Nadal in the Australian Open 2014 final, he was strangely relaxed about the challenge awaiting him.
At the 2014 edition of the Grand Slam Down Under, Rafael Nadal looked nearly unstoppable by the time the second week came along. Having dusted off Roger Federer in the semifinals, the Spaniard was the heavy favorite going into the final - notwithstanding the fact that he was facing a first-time finalist.
But Stan Wawrinka himself was unstoppable in Melbourne that year. He first beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, and then miraculously took out Nadal too to win his maiden Slam.
Speaking with French magazine L'Illustre yesterday, Stan Wawrinka revealed what went in on his mind before he faced Rafael Nadal in that all-important final.
'It was the dream' - Stan Wawrinka on the prospect of facing Rafael Nadal in his first Major final
In 2014, Rafael Nadal had started the season at his scintillating best, winning the title at Qatar Exxonmobil Open before heading to Melbourne. He was arguably at the absolute peak of his career back then, having defeated his arch-rival Novak Djokovic en route winning two of the previous three Grand Slams.
Asked how he felt at being pitted against a player of such stature, Stan Wawrinka said he was confident in his game and so wasn't particularly nervous before the match.
"On 26 January 2014, I was at the top of my life," Wawrinka said. "Hyper-relaxed. It was the dream. I was on a little cloud. I was about to play my first Major final, and I felt in great shape, well in my game. I had to play Rafael Nadal, World No. 1 then. At the worst, what?"
The 2014 Australian Open marked the culmination of Stan Wawrinka's journey to becoming a top player, and the Swiss still believes that nothing in his career can match that victory in Melbourne. But he dismissed the notion that he had nothing to lose when he took the court against Rafael Nadal; instead, he talked about high the stakes were for him.
"We often hear that such a player (in his first Major final) has nothing to lose. I never felt that way. On the contrary, the stakes were enormous and the opportunity was unique," Wawrinka said.
I was really looking forward to the final: Stan Wawrinka
Contrary to how Wawrinka had felt on the eve of the 2016 USO final against Novak Djokovic, the Swiss was very optimistic going into his clash against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open.
Stan Wawrinka entered the match with a 0-12 record vs the Spaniard, but he was not one to be discouraged. In fact, the Swiss was in a jubilant mood when he stepped on the court, which went a long way towards helping him hit his trademark powerful groundstrokes with accuracy.
Nadal of course got famously injured after the first set, which helped the Swiss considerably down the home stretch. But Wawrinka had already laid down a marker with his nerveless play during the first set, which was a product of just how excited he was to play in his first Slam final.
Elaborating further on how he felt on the eve of the final, Wawrinka said:
"I stayed up till 1:30 am chatting with my team over a drink. Then I went up to my room and watched TV for a while before I went to bed. I slept very little that night. Not out of nervousness, but because I was really looking forward to it."Published 16 Jul 2020, 23:02 IST