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.
This win for wawrinka comes with a HUGE asterisk. at full health its very unlikely nadal loses that
— Nimrit Shergill (@trueyeezianist) January 26, 2014
And Wawrinka gets his first ever grand slam title against a crippled Nadal. Too bad for him… Always will be an asterisk. #ESPNAO
— Nate Mathis (@nathancmathis) January 26, 2014
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.
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.
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.