Rafael Nadal was ready to be crowned before the Australian Open final on Jan. 26. With Nadal poised to win his second Australian Open and second straight Grand Slam, there might have been talk of a Nadal Grand Slam before the day was out. Instead, Nadal's greatest nemesis other than Roger Federer -- injuries -- came back at the worst time, with Stan Wawrinka taking care of the rest.
Wawrinka was the second straight Swiss player to face Nadal, but he did more than Federer ever could in the semifinal. In fact, Wawrinka pulled off the early upset of the year with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 triumph for his first Grand Slam title. Nevertheless, credit for the upset was split between Wawrinka and a back injury Nadal suffered during the match.
It appeared Nadal was on the brink of retiring in the second set, as Wawrinka pulled away and the world's No. 1 player could barely move. Yet Nadal stayed on the court and even took the third set, briefly raising hopes for a miraculous rally. However, Wawrinka already upset Novak Djokovic in this Australian Open and knew how to finish off heavy favorites, injured or not.
Wawrinka not only became the first Swiss man other than Federer to win a Grand Slam in ages, he was the first Grand Slam male winner other than Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray since Juan Martin del Potro took the 2009 U.S. Open. Tennis once had a Big Two with Nadal and Federer, followed by a Big Three when Djokovic broke through and a Big Four once Murray finally emerged -- and now a new member may be joining the elite.
With Federer on the decline, Wawrinka might have now become the best player from Switzerland at this point and time. If he wins another Grand Slam against a fully healthy Nadal, or Djokovic or Murray, there won't be any doubt about it.
Yet now that Nadal's dominance has been stalled by injury once again, the Australian Open has turned from a coronation into a cause for concern. While he can still dominate at the French Open in May, like he does most every year, he won't be halfway to a Grand Slam if he does after all.