Rafael Nadal will be the shortest favourite since the start of the Millennium for a Grand Slam final when he plays Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open on Sunday morning European time. The Spanish player is as low 1.16 as to win this title for the second time in his career and take his tally of Grand Slams to 14.
Nadal beat Roger Federer in the semi-final and after playing the Swiss number two in the last four now meets the highest world ranked player from Switzerland in the last match of the tournament. Nadal has a perfect 12-0 record against Wawrinka and few will be betting on the underdog to break that trend of results against the world number one.
The cramped odds for Nadal to beat Wawrinka reflect the player’s relative records in the four most prestigious events of the year. Players at the very highest level plan their seasons around the major tournaments. Since returning from a lengthy injury break Nadal has won the French Open and US Open.
He is just one of seven players to have achieved a career Grand Slam. The ‘King of Clay’ has won the French Open eight times and no other player has won a single major more often. If he wins the Australian Open this year Nadal will just need to win Wimbledon to have achieved the Grand Slam in the 18 months since returning from injury.
A win over Wawrinka on Sunday morning would give a neat synergy to Nadal’s record in the Grand Slams. In addition to the eight French Opens he would have won each of the other two twice. The title that is probably now most elusive is Wimbledon. Nadal would not jeopardise winning his beloved French Open again by focusing on grass before the end of the clay court season.
Nadal is playing in his ninth Australian Open this year. He reached the third round in 2004 and won one more match the following year. Since then he has never failed to reach the quarter-finals except in 2006 when he was absent. If he does land the odds and beats Wawrinka he has a chance of winning all four majors in the same year. The French Open is a gimme and he is the defending champion in the US Open which just leaves Wimbledon to complete the set in the same calendar year.
Nadal has played in 18 Grand Slam finals and lost just five. That is an outstanding record when he is regularly playing Federer or Novak Djokovic. He has never played Andy Murray in a Grand Slam final and it would be appropriate if that particular match was at Wimbledon. The galleries always respect a former winner and Nadal is popular in the United Kingdom but even he would have to deal with less support in the final than Murray.
Rafa was just too strong for Federer in the semi-final in Melbourne. The first set was tight and went to a tie breaker but after that Nadal dominated the match. Federer was consistently serving at 200 km/hour but Nadal took all the right options which forced his opponent into unforced errors. Federer was not able to recapture his best form of old and his Grand Slam winning days look to be behind him.
Wawrinka recorded the biggest win of his career in beating Djokovic in five sets in the quarter-finals. His win over Tomas Berdych in the last four was less eye-catching but he was too good for a man who played in the Wimbledon final in 2010 and has been consistently in the top 10 in the world rankings for the last five years. Wawrinka was not fazed or nervous about his chance to reach his first Grand Slam final.
The second best tennis player ever born in Switzerland has a significantly worse record in the Grand Slams than his opponent in the final. He has played in 35 major tournaments since his first appearance in 2005. His best result was reaching the semi-finals at the US Open last year. That tournament is played outdoors on hardcourts so he does have recent form on the underfoot conditions that he faces in Australia.
Wawrinka has reached the quarter finals of each of the Grand Slams other than Wimbledon. His game is clearly not suited to grass as his win-loss record at Wimbledon is 9-9. His form figures in the Australian Open are 17 matches won and eight lost. His overall record in Grand Slam tennis is 69 wins from 104 matches. However, he is still striving for that elusive Grand Slam title at his 36th attempt.
Wawrinka has played in the last eight Australian Opens and only got beyond the fourth round on one occasion. However, his best and equal best results in Melbourne have come in the last three years. Nadal is a worthy favourite for the final of the Australian Open but the bookmakers might have underestimated Wawrinka’s chances of causing an upset.
The past results between these two players have been factored into the odds. Wawrinka has never beaten Nadal in twelve matches. They have met five times outdoors on hardcourts and Wawrinka has won just one of eleven sets played in these conditions. In the twelve matches Wawrinka has won just three sets which means Nadal has beaten him in straight sets nine times.
Nadal has been suffering with blisters on his hand and has suggested that his serving action has been affected. He seemed to be serving at his best against Federer in the semi-finals so taping and treatment seemed to have healed the complaint. Of the six matches Nadal has played in Melbourne this year four have been won in straight sets and Bernard Tomic retired against him in the first round after just one set.
Wawrinka has had a more demanding workload as Djokovic took him to five sets and he needed four sets to beat Berdych. However he has had an extra days rest but that advantage should not be enough for him to beat the favourite and Nadal looks set to win another Grand Slam title.