• Chris Wilkinson

Stan's the man in Australian Open mind game

Chris Wilkinson January 26, 2014
Wawrinka not thinking about future Slams

It may not go down as a classic Australian Open final, but Stanislas Wawrinka proved to everyone - himself included - that he has the physical ability to match the world's very best. Perhaps even more importantly, he showed the mental fortitude to go with it as well.

The final's major talking point was, of course, the back injury sustained by Rafael Nadal that impaired him throughout, but take nothing away from Wawrinka because he had to win two matches to claim his maiden grand slam at the Australian Open.

Prior to Nadal doubling over in pain, Wawrinka had outplayed his opponent for a set and a bit. He was the better player by far and really showed how far he has come in a year.

The opening set - the first he's taken from Nadal in what was their 13th meeting - showed his new-found confidence, rounded off by that epic victory over Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

When Nadal first grasped at his back and had to take a medical time-out, it was all about the injury and how the Spaniard was going to react. Could he get through? Could Wawrinka finish it off?

Nadal was in obvious pain, but that is part of tennis © Getty Images

Wawrinka was clearly frustrated when Nadal disappeared off to the locker room, and I can understand why he was raging at umpire Carlos Ramos, demanding to know what was wrong with his opponent. He was on a roll and the momentum was with him, and Nadal has a bit of a history for taking his time in these situations.

Up against Nadal in the final of a slam, any other player may have retreated within themselves a bit and showed Nadal too much respect. But Wawrinka knew he had a chance to win it and he went and did just that. The frustration at the chair just proved he didn't want to be intimidated by the situation.

At the time you wondered if by letting his annoyance get the better of him it could affect him, but it just ended up proving how determined he was. It's easy to say Nadal was playing up the injury, but to me it showed good courage and he was crying as he walked off. He's not a player that retires from matches and he's one of the most genuine on tour.

For Nadal to go on to win in five with his problems would have been an incredible achievement. Having got one set back, you started to wonder if he could do it, but he still had to win another two sets against a quality, in-form player. Injury or no injury, this was a grand slam final and Nadal is the ultimate competitor.

Tennis on the face of it is two people hitting a ball to each other over a net, but that's not just it. It's a gruelling sport and it's not just about how you play on the day, but about fitness as well. Wawrinka was the fitter of the two. That's part and parcel of the game.

I have to say I thought Nadal was going to retire. In those first few games after he came back from his time-out, I was convinced he was going to shake Wawrinka's hand at any minute.

It wasn't a great spectacle for the neutral from that point but all credit to Nadal, he got better and loosened up a bit and made more of a challenge for Wawrinka, and that's why it became so interesting.

It became a different sort of match for different reasons. It wasn't about the physical contest from that point onwards, but about the mental battle between the players.

And Wawrinka won them both.

So where does the new Swiss No. 1, taking over that mantle from none other than Roger Federer, go from here? He's now No. 3 in the world, and if you look at the last year or so and players who might mix it up with the big boys, people were talking about Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. Not a lot of people will have mentioned Wawrinka.

Do I see him winning more grand slams? Yes, is the short answer. He has the talent and potential to go on and win at least three or four more. His service - both first and second - is great and his backhand is phenomenal, one of the best in the game.

But it's the way he hits the ball as well. You saw against Nadal how his hand gets through the court - and that's the effect of Magnus Norman, Wawrinka's coach. Wawrinka upset the rhythm with flatter, harder shots with less top-spin to get through the harder courts a bit quicker.

From here he must go on and keep believing that he can win more grand slams - and there is no reason why he shouldn't.

Murray can make major push again

Murray's fitness is of utmost importance over the next few months © AP

It was a good tournament for Murray. He's done incredibly well, when you think of the time he's had out following the back surgery, to make the second week and the quarter-finals of a slam.

He will look at his achievement in Melbourne and be happy that it was a solid enough effort to now push on and start looking at the next series of tournaments.

He's hinted that he will play in the Davis Cup, which starts on Friday, and that will be a great effort if he does. Will he play all three matches, over three days? It's unlikely. From a physical point of view, if you're still not 100 percent you have to be careful. It will be interesting to see what kind of commitment he makes to the cause.

He needs to make short steps - the Masters Series events at Indian Wells and Miami are likely to be his next target - and get matches under his belt ahead of the French Open.

Can he win another grand slam this year? Absolutely. I don't see him winning the French, but I expect a good defence at Wimbledon and for him to make an assault on getting the US Open back from Nadal.

But with Wawrinka now in the mix, Federer back in form, and Djokovic and Nadal playing well, for Murray to win a slam he's now got even more players that he has to beat in five-set matches.

The next couple of months are vital for Murray. But he's too good a player not to be in contention at the big events.

Na proves me right

As called by Wilkinson before the Australian Open, Na was finally a champion in Melbourne © Getty Images

In my preview running up to the Australian Open, I noted that Li Na was one to watch out for in the women's draw.

When she is on her game, she is hot. She is an aggressive player who takes it on and she just had too much for Dominika Cibulkova in the final.

Na was a losing finalist in two of the previous three years and perhaps, with this in the back of her mind, nerves got the better of her in the first set. But she managed to scrape through that and from there on she was in cruise control in a 7-6 6-0 victory.

From the women's point of view, it was a good tournament and great for the women's game - and the sport in general. It's always nice to see new players coming through, the likes of Cibulkova, Eugenie Bouchard, as well as a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who did tremendously well to beat Serena Williams.

When Williams, the clear favourite, and defending champion Victoria Azarenka both went out, it was a great opportunity for the other players - and Na used her grand slam winning experience to get through.

She is finally a winner at Melbourne Park - and thoroughly deserved, too.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.