MELBOURNE, Australia — At an Australian Open marked by upsets and new story lines, Rafael Nadal will play today’s final against a man often called the “other” Swiss tennis player.
Now, after a stunning run in Melbourne, Stanislas Wawrinka has a new nickname: The Stanimal — a tribute to his gritty, fight-until-the end style of tennis. Fittingly, perhaps, the name was apparently coined by none other than Roger Federer, in a tweet of support for his friend which quickly caught on earlier in the tournament.
Now that Federer is out of the running — he lost to Nadal in the semifinals — the 17-time Grand Slam winner and long-time ambassador for Swiss tennis has joined those cheering for Wawrinka to win his first Grand Slam final. It is a match that holds historical significance for all three players.
If the No. 1-ranked Nadal wins, as the odds suggest he will, the 27-year-old Spaniard will become the first player to win each of the majors twice in the Open era. It would be his 14th Grand Slam trophy and bring him one step closer to Federer’s all-time record of 17.
If No. 8-ranked Wawrinka beats Nadal to win his first major title, he catapults to a career high of No. 3 in the rankings. Just reaching the final assures Wawrinka of the No. 5 spot, meaning for the first time he will pass Federer, who is now ranked sixth.
On the eve of the final, Wawrinka said he was still shocked by his success.
“It’s insane. It’s incredible,” the 28-year-old Wawrinka said Saturday, speaking to reporters in English and in his native French. “I never imagined that one day I would be here, playing in the final.”
After a breakthrough year in 2013, Wawrinka is playing the best tennis of his life in Melbourne. He knocked out four-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals and beat No. 7 Tomas Berdych in the semifinals. He knows how tough it will be to beat Nadal — he’s tried and failed 12 times.