At an Australian Open marked by upsets and new story lines, Rafael Nadal will play Sunday’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.
If the No. 1-ranked Nadal wins, 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, 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 passes Federer, who is now sixth.
On the eve of the final, Wawrinka said he was still shocked by his success. “I never imagined that one day I would be here, playing in the final,” the 28-year-old Wawrinka said Saturday. After a breakthrough year in 2013, Wawrinka is playing the best tennis of his life in Melbourne. He knocked out three-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.
“I’ve played him so many times, and lost so many times, but I’m going to try again,” Wawrinka said. “I know what I have to do. I know that I have to play aggressive, serve really well, and try to always push him.” “I’m playing my best tennis here,” Wawrinka added. “Physically, I’m ready.”