“Failing better” is Stanislas Wawrinka’s motto, but the 28-year-old will have to get used to seeing himself as a winner after defeating Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final.
A back injury sustained by world No 1 Nadal dominated the match, but nothing could take the shine off Wawrinka’s first grand slam title.
Long overshadowed by compatriot Roger Federer, who was one of the first people to call with congratulations, he will move to No 3 in the world rankings on Monday and become Swiss No 1 for the first time.
It will take some adjusting for Wawrinka, whose arm displays the words of Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’’
After the 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory, Wawrinka said: “Before today, I always said that except Roger, Rafa, Novak [Djokovic], you always lose, every week. It’s tough to take a positive from failing at a tournament.
“That’s how I see, in general, my career. I always go back to the court, I always go back to practise to try to improve myself and to give me the best chance to beat the best players in the world.
“I will need time to realise what I did in these two weeks. Because at the end, even if Rafa was injured, I think I deserved that grand slam because I won against Djokovic, I won against Rafa. I did an amazing two weeks and I was playing my best tennis ever.”
Wawrinka went into the match as a huge underdog having never taken a set off world No 1 Nadal in 12 previous meetings.
But he began with all the confidence of a man in the form of his life. In the quarter-finals he defeated defending champion Djokovic, who had left him sobbing after a heartbreaking five-set loss a year ago.
That was the match that finally persuaded Wawrinka he did belong with the world’s best, and he showed it in a blistering first set against Nadal.
He was a break up in the second when the Spaniard winced, held his back and headed off court for a medical time-out. On the resumption, Nadal could barely move or serve, and Wawrinka quickly won the second set.
But, having played so well, the Swiss was struggling with the new dynamics of the match, and Nadal’s condition improved enough for him to take an unlikely third set.
The pressure now was firmly on Wawrinka, but he finally got the better of three successive breaks of serve in the fourth set before clinching the victory of his life.
“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now,” he said. “I never expected to win a grand slam. I never dreamed about it because, for me, I was not good enough to beat these guys. I was surprised how well I started the match. In the beginning, he was fit. I was playing amazing tennis.
“I had to stay calm and just try to stay aggressive. It was not easy. I started to be really nervous because I started to realise that I could win a grand slam.
“I was really sad for him. I really hope that it’s not too bad because he was already injured last year and he came back the best player in the world. He’s someone that we need in tennis.”
Nadal had talked on Friday after beating Federer about how happy he was to be able to compete for the title again at a tournament that has been troublesome for him. In 2010 and 2011 he was severely hampered by injuries, while last year he missed the event altogether because of knee problems.
Reluctantly explaining his latest issue, an emotional Nadal said: “Since the warm-up, I felt it a little bit. At the end of the first set, I started to feel worse.
“Then at the beginning of the second was the key moment that I felt, during a serve, a bad movement, it was very stiff, very bad. But this is not the moment to talk about that. It’s the moment to congratulate Stan. He really deserves to win the title. I’m very happy for him.”
After the second set, Nadal seemed to consider calling it a day, but he said: “The last thing that I wanted to do was retire. I hate to do that, especially in a final.
“I tried hard until the end, trying to finish the match as good as I could for the crowd, for the opponent, for me.
“I’m obviously disappointed and very sad about what happened. But that’s life, that’s sport. I really had a lot of great moments in my career. This is a tough one. I’ll just accept it and try to keep working hard for what’s coming.”
When Nadal returned from his time-out he was jeered by the crowd, although it did not take them long to get behind him again when they realised the extent to which he was fighting through the pain barrier.
He said: “They paid for their ticket to watch the best match possible, and I was not able to offer that to them. I can understand very well the reaction. They understood later that I was bad. You never will hear me talk badly about the crowd here.”
Nadal had been bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win each grand slam title at least twice, as well as equal the 14 titles of Pete Sampras, who presented the trophies.
That will have to wait, for, as Nadal said: “It’s Stan’s day, not my day.”
Wawrinka may not have been able to quite believe his achievement, but he was happy to celebrate it.
“There’s a big chance I’ll get drunk tonight,” he added with a grin.