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Stan the man

A.K.A. The bull slayer

 Stan “the Man” Wawrinka was a masterful matador against Rafael “the Spanish Bull” Nadal. Photograph by Christian Mesiano.

Stan “the Man” Wawrinka was a masterful matador against Rafael “the Spanish Bull” Nadal. Photograph by Christian Mesiano.

Wow, you gotta hand it to Stan Wawrinka – the everyman who has played in countryman Roger Federer’s (aka Feddy Bear’s) shadow for so long – electrifying Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final. This is the first time that someone other than one of the Big Four (Rafa, Fed, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray) has won a Grand Slam since Juan Martin del Potro defeated Rafa in the US Open final in 2009. Yes, that’s right, four years of domination over.

Stan’s win over Rafa was huge, bigger than his win over Nole and not just because that was the quarterfinals. Nole, the former defending champ who has won the tournament four times (including three in a row) is nonetheless the Maria Callas of men’s tennis: There’s so much drama in his matches. Indeed, when the tennis experts cull the top 10 matches each year, several of his are always in there, because the outcome is never certain. 

Sure, when Nole’s in a groove, he’s unhittable, as he was at the end of last year by winning four tournaments and 20-odd matches in a row and proving that he is one of the greatest indoor players of all time, if not the greatest. But outdoors in the Slams, anything can happen. Nole – perhaps the most consistent of the Big Four in the Slams and always a fighter -- is nevertheless vulnerable. And so others are capable of taking it to him, as DelPo did last year in their brilliant Wimbledon semifinal, Rafa did in their masterful French Open semifinal, and Stan did twice at the Aussie and US opens, albeit losing taut five-setters.

Rafa is a creature from another part of the forest. “He’s an animal,” a retired schoolteacher told me as I sat proofing my new novel “Water Music” last August at my go-to spot for Chinese. Rafa “the Spanish Bull” was goring the competition at the US Open on his inexorable march back to the No. 1 ranking that Nole had taken from him.

That’s Rafa’s style: Plow your way through. He’s that intense. To beat him and Nole at this Open is as great an accomplishment as Nole beating Fed and Rafa back-to-back, maybe even greater.

Can Stan crack the top four? Definitely. He’s more versatile than David Ferrer, the current No. 3. Can he be No. 1? I doubt it. Rafa, Nole and Andy are just that good. 

If you read this blog, then you know I hate to have my guys lose. So I have to admit I’m sorry to see Nole and Rafa go down. I was hoping for another final like the six-hour Rafanole marathon in 2012. Indeed, my idea of perfection is a Rafanole final that never ends. (Meanwhile, Vogue’s Anna Wintour was hoping for an all-Swiss final between Stan and her fave, Fed.)

But kudos to Stan. His win gives wings to all of us who hope to break through some day somewhere.