Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch


As I wrote the other day, I had been hoping that the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal semifinal at the Australian Open would be the highlight of the tournament. It wasn't, though, and rather emphatically. Given my admittedly hard-to-justify antipathy towards Nadal, then, the best outcome in the final would have been a victory for Federer's Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka. And that's what we got, improbably, but under circumstances that made the upset hard to enjoy properly.

I woke up -- remember, this is in the middle of the night here -- very surprised to learn that Wawrinka had won the first set fairly easily and excited to watch him attempt to stave off what would surely be a frantic comeback from Nadal. But then, just a few minutes after I'd tuned in, Nadal appeared to injure his back on an otherwise ordinary-looking shot and the whole match plummeted down a sinkhole. After a long injury timeout back in the bowels of the arena, Nadal reemerged looking very unlike himself and played that way.

Some of the fans booed, no doubt remembering the gamesmanship of Victoria Azarenka in the previous year's semifinal. The commentators instead praised Nadal for refusing to quit. Frankly, I didn't know what to think. I'd never seen Nadal like that and never known him to have any back problems. But I had also never known him to be so demonstratively injured during a match.

Wawrinka was clearly confused himself. He seemed afraid to give 100% against a diminished opponent. Although he did go on to win the second set, he rather shockingly lost the third, despite the fact that Nadal was serving at half his normal pace. Or maybe because Nadal was serving at half his normal pace. It looked like Wawrinka was a hitter who had been swinging at 95mph fastballs suddenly forced to make contact with a knuckleball.

When the fourth set began, I was ready for Nadal to continue his comeback. And I was ready to hate him for playing up his injury in order to unnerve an opponent who was clearly outperforming him. But then Wawrinka seemed to get some of his mojo back. Nadal was playing better and seeming less injured, yes, but that actually seemed to help Wawrinka to regain his first-set form. Although the set was very close for a while, the Swiss underdog prevailed.

His celebration was incredibly muted, though, especially for someone winning his first major after so many tries. Nadal had managed to direct so much of the attention onto his own condition that the victor's exultation seemed out of place. It felt like a classic passive-aggressive move. Yet when the trophy presentation commenced, Nadal was the picture of graciousness. Was the crowd being manipulated? Was I? Or were we instead witnessing a true champion who tried his hardest to give Wawrinka a match despite being too injured to have any hope of winning? Needless to say, though these questions were interesting to ponder, I was kind of annoyed to have sacrificed two hours of my middle-of-the-night sleep to be so disappointed, particularly after the great men's finals in the two previous Australian Opens.
Tags: sports

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