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Beyond the Baseline

Stanislas Wawrinka must reverse history vs. Rafael Nadal in title match

Stanislas Wawrinka Stanislas Wawrinka will hope his backhand can be effective against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." That's the quote inscribed on No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka's forearm, and it will be his motto going into his first Slam final, where he will take on No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final on Sunday. Wawrinka has never won a set off Nadal, losing 26 straight sets in 12 matches. Then again, he hadn't beaten Novak Djokovic in 14 straight matches and finally got the best of him in the quarterfinals here.

"I have played him so many times, 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."

So does Wawrinka have a chance in the final? He can take confidence in the fact that he has played Nadal tough recently. In their last two meetings, he has taken Nadal to numerous tiebreakers, only to lose because of one poorly played point. At the ATP World Tour finals, he lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4). At the Shanghai Masters a few weeks before that, he lost 7-6 (10), 6-1 on an outdoor hard court.

Watch the highlights from their tight clash last fall at the Shanghai Masters:

http://youtu.be/Zo5ApGFAcY0

And their even tighter match indoors at the ATP World Tour Finals:

http://youtu.be/KE6-m0MQe3o

Wawrinka has closed the gap, but can he win three sets off the Spaniard? That's a tough ask, given his compatriot, Roger Federer, failed at the task in the semifinals, losing 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3. Wawrinka's backhand and serve are both bigger than Federer's, but there is still the issue of Nadal sending heavy topspin forehands to his backhand side. That is the formula of success for Nadal against one-handed backhanders, and it's hard to see how Wawrinka will work himself out of that predicament unless he has a big hitting day.

"I have more confidence in myself," Wawrinka said. "I know that when I go on court, I can beat almost everybody, even in the big stage like in a Grand Slam semifinal now. So for sure, it's a lot about confidence, especially with my game that I'm playing quite fast from the baseline, trying to always be aggressive.  So I take a lot of risks sometimes, so it's important to be really fresh and relaxed in my head."

"He's playing better than ever," Nadal said. "It's not a question of winning one or two [sets]. ... He's a player that is ready to win against everybody today. If I don't play my best tennis, I am sure that he will win three sets against me."

That's all very gracious talk from Nadal, but he's coming into the final having played his best match of the tournament. He served extremely well against Federer, not facing a break point until the third set. His suffocating defense looks better than ever, and it's clear that the blister on his hand isn't bothering him. He'll be chasing history, too, looking to become the first man in the Open era to win all four Slams at least twice. A win here and he'll equal Pete Sampras on the list of all-time Slam title holders, with 14 majors, and it would put him just three behind Federer's mark of 17.

Wawrinka will need to hit big and hit big consistently. His best bet is to take big cuts at the Nadal serve, especially on second serve to try to break him. Given the way Nadal is moving and hitting, Wawrinka wants to avoid the long rallies. See the ball, hit the ball, and hope Nadal doesn't get to it. That's Wawrinka's only hope.

Prediction: Nadal in three sets. 
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