No Asterisks for Stan Wawrinka’s Win

Even before Stan Wawrinka pounded that last forehand into the corner for a winner on match point, the tennis community was already discussing whether an “asterisk” should be added to Wawrinka’s first major title because of Rafael Nadal’s injury.

The Draw

One might rightfully argue that Wawrinka had it easy for the first few rounds of the tournament. Indeed, he was the beneficiary of a retirement from Andrey Golubev in the first round, and a walkover from Vasek Pospisil in the third round.

However, once he got to the fourth round, he actually had a tougher path to the title than Nadal. In order to win the tournament, he had to beat Tommy Robredo, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Nadal in succession. While Grigor Dimitrov gave Nadal a tough match, Nadal’s last four opponents were Kei Nishikori, Dimitrov, Roger Federer, and Wawrinka — hardly a draw that would ordinarily give the World No. 1 trouble.

Would a Nadal Australian Open win have been handed an asterisk because he would only have to beat two top 10 players on the way to the title? Probably not.


The Head-to-Head

If Nadal were healthy, he would’ve had a good chance of beating Stan Wawrinka. Nadal’s gaudy 12-0 advantage in their head-to-head going into the match would suggest that.

But if we’re going to go down that road of logic, why even bother playing the tournament? After all, Wawrinka’s record against Djokovic going into their match was a dismal 2-15. Sure, Wawrinka had pushed Djokovic in some recent encounters, but he had also lost all of those, which can be even more backbreaking than losing easily.

Once a match is over, it’s pointless to make assumptions about who should’ve or would’ve won the match if circumstances were different. The truth is, while we might have some idea who would have an advantage, we really don’t know what the outcome would’ve been. Even the most lopsided head-to-heads can’t tell you who will win the match. You have to play it.

Wawrinka vs. Del Potro

Think back to 2009, when Juan Martin del Potro broke through and won the US Open. What happened in the semifinals of that tournament?

Many people might not remember right away, but Del Potro beat an injured Nadal in straight sets in the semis before beating Federer in the final.

On paper, Del Potro’s US Open run is actually no more impressive than Wawrinka’s. In fact, he only had to beat two top 10 players to win the tournament, while Wawrinka had to beat three. The only difference was that his injured opponent came on a smaller stage than Wawrinka’s.

If the two matches would’ve been reversed, and Wawrinka would’ve beaten Rafa in the semis and Djokovic in the final, we probably wouldn’t need to have any conversation about asterisks. Unfortunately for Wawrinka, Grand Slam finals are generally more memorable than Grand Slam semis.

Context – Strength of Draw

In order to win the Australian Open, Wawrinka had to beat three top 10 players. This puts him in good company — it’s just the seventh time since 2009 in which a player has beaten three top 10 players to win a slam. In the rest of the 14 slams since the start of 2009, the winner has only had to beat one or two top 10 players. The only other guys aside from Wawrinka to beat three top 10 players in that time period were Nadal (2x), Djokovic(3x), and Federer(1x).

If a player’s draw alone were enough to make a compelling asterisk argument (although to me, it’s not — a player can only beat who’s on the other side of the court), it would make more sense to focus on Nadal’s 2013 and 2010 Roland Garros wins, Djokovic’s 2011 Wimbledon title, and Federer’s 2009 Wimbledon title — those guys only had to beat one top 10 player on the way to padding their slam totals.

No Asterisks

A lot of things have to go right for any player — including the Big Four — to win a slam. The Big Four have created such an air of invincibility that it’s easy to question any breakthrough and wonder if it’s a fluke.

It seems like the only thing that would convince some that a title is valid would be for a non-Big Four opponent to beat every member of the Big Four, when in reality, that’s not happening when the Big Four themselves are winning slams. Beating Berdych and Djokovic on the way to winning a slam would be enough for Federer or Nadal, but to some, it’s not enough for Wawrinka, and that’s unfair.

Wawrinka, who has won five of his last seven matches against top 10 opposition, shouldn’t accept any asterisks for his slam title. His run was the real deal.

Amy can be spotted on a tennis court in the Philadelphia area, shanking backhand volleys.

13 Responses

  1. lost in translation
    lost in translation February 4, 2014 at 4:06 pm |

    I don’t think we should even discuss the asterisks question.

  2. SamG
    SamG February 4, 2014 at 4:07 pm |

    Amy, while all your points are valid I still believe Nadal would have won had he been healthy.

    Wawrinka’s troubles against a crippled Nadal don’t bode well. Yes, he overcame them but only because Nadal could barely move, let alone serve.

    Such weakness against a healthy Nadal would have been fatal. All Nadal needs to turn a match on its head is a chink in the opponents armor and Wawrinka showed he still has them.

    But whatever we think, asterisks or no, the only thing recorded for posterity will be the win.

  3. Henk
    Henk February 4, 2014 at 5:55 pm |

    There’s no asterisk because he did as much as past slam winners who didn’t face an injured opponent, but it is also without a shadow of a doubt that had Nadal not been injured he’d be sitting pretty on 14 majors right now.

  4. Siobhan
    Siobhan February 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm |

    I’m a huge Rafa fan, but I agree with you. Wawrinka totally deserved that. Fitness is part of the sport, and if Rafa was injured and Stan wasn’t, then so be it. We’ll never know what could have happpened if Rafa had been healthy, but the way Stan was playing in that first set anyways, I wouldn’t have put it past him to have won anyway

  5. Matt Vidakovic
    Matt Vidakovic February 4, 2014 at 6:20 pm |

    Wavrinka’s troubles came because he didn’t know how to behave – he was being given the match. I think had he faced resistance from Nadal (which would have certainly happened from a healthy Nadal) he would have steeled himself in time to clinch the title anyway (like he did the match vs. Djokovic)

    Wavrinka is in the form of his life, and it propelled him to GS glory. I don’t think we should try take that away from him.

  6. Andrew Burton
    Andrew Burton February 4, 2014 at 10:18 pm |

    Call me deluded, but I could have sworn Nadal offered some half-decent resistance. You can, if you wish, divide the match into three periods:

    1) Both players run around fast and hit the ball hard and accurately. Wawrinka manages this period more successfully than Nadal, wins the first set and goes up 2-0 in set 2.

    2) Nadal feels an acute pain in his back. After holding for 1-2, he receives medical attention and some pain killers. For the next five games he’s clearly in distress, and Wawrinka closes out an untroubled second set 6-2.

    3) A combination of cussedness, skill, and analgesics gets to work on Nadal. Wawrinka starts playing not to lose, and hoping his opponent will miss, which happens less often than he would like. The next 18 games are split down the middle, 9 each. Each player wins a set. Unfortunately for Nadal, because Wawrinka already has two sets in the bank, the match ends when Wawrinka wins a set.

    That was a tennis match – with an unfortunate twist, to be sure. It was hell to watch, once it was apparent that nerves had kicked in big time for Stan. Lest we forget, he’d taken on a top player with a sore back at IW R16 2013 (Federer) and made a horrible botch of it. (FWIW, Nadal efficiently disposed of the still-sore Fed in straights in the next round).

    Nadal may have had slim hopes of winning, but he tried to win. No shame on Stan for getting nervous. No shame on Rafa for making the best fight he could, and – 100%, no question, right down the middle – #NoAsterisks.

  7. Nelly
    Nelly February 5, 2014 at 1:11 am |

    I think your point above about why even having the tennis tournament if people are going to question wins is valid. It is a tournament, and may the best man win. Injuries are part of the game. Serena understands that too – should Ivanovic be given full credit for that win over a clearly hobbled Serena? Serena is getting up in age, and with age comes more injuries. It is part of the sport.

    Nadal also plays a very aggressive game for his body, and it seemed like unfortunately his back picked the worst time to seize up on him. I’m a big Novak fan, and the match I was most afraid of was the match vs Stan. The Stan-Novak match last year at AO was epic, and this year was no exception either. Seems like both guys deserved to have 1 win. So if he beats Novak, and Nadal – he earned that title. And if we want to analyze how Nadal lost the final, how about analyzing how Nadal barely got by Dmitrov in the semifinals? If Dimitrov’s running forehand is in in the 2nd set, he may end up going to the final, and losing to Stan.

    1. Jess
      Jess February 5, 2014 at 1:55 am |

      Sorry, but Nadal played Dimitrov in quarterfinal, not semi. He played Federer in semi.

      1. Nelly
        Nelly February 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm |

        Thanks for the catch on that, haha. If Dmitrov beats Nadal, no idea whether Fed or Dmitrov would win. Might give a slight edge to Dmitrov – baby Fed vs actual Fed lol. Though regardless of which of those guys makes it to the final, Stan beats either of them.

  8. Q
    Q February 5, 2014 at 5:25 am |

    I am a stan fan, but I think Nadal would have won if not injured, but really valid points about overall tournament stan played well and that fitness is all part of winning a GS

  9. Katie
    Katie February 5, 2014 at 9:31 am |

    I agree that there should be no asterisks attached to Stan’s win – or to any other slam win. If a player is able to win the required number of matches to get to the final and then wins the final, they deserve the title.

    Their history (and slam final experience) suggests that Nadal would have probably won the final if he’d been fit, but he wasn’t. Injuries are part of the sport; it was just very unfortunate timing in this case.

  10. RZ
    RZ February 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm |

    The only asterisks in tennis are cases of poor sportsmanship affecting a result – e.g., when a player doesn’t call a ball that hits his/her body, or doesn’t call a double bounce, or doesn’t call a ball that went out but was first tipped by the racquet. Otherwise, all results are asterisk-free.

  11. Jez Smith
    Jez Smith February 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm |

    I BELIEVE Wawrinka would have won this match regardless but like everyone else here, I don’t KNOW for certain.

    The undisputed fact remains that Nadal wasn’t strong enough on the day – whether your aren’t strong enough mentally OR physically (as we know tennis is a sport of 2 disciplines) is irrelevant. Nadal wasn’t strong enough to win physically in this instance so the stronger, and therefore correct person won.

    It’s a sport after all 🙂

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