Australian Open: World No 1 Rafael Nadal takes on Stanislas Wawrinka in the men's final
Rafa Nadal faces Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open final trying to become the third man to win each major twice.
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza
Last Updated: 25/01/14 11:16pm
Both men come into the tournament unbeaten this season, with Wawrinka winning an ATP Tour event in Chennai and Nadal in Doha.
But the Spaniard is poised for his 14th Grand Slam trophy in Sunday's final which would equal Pete Sampras' milestone and he would be just three major titles behind Roger Federer's record of 17, and closing in fast.
The 27-year-old has years on his side and, with his extraordinary levels of energy and brute strength, is firm favourite to beat eighth-seeded Wawrinka.
Nadal has won only once in Melbourne, in 2009, and lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2012's record, six-hour final, 7-5 in the fifth set. In subsequent years he has struggled with injuries during or before the season's first major.
After missing the 2013 Australian Open during a seven-month layoff for illness and a knee injury he returned to win the French and US Open last year.
Should the relentless Majorcan defeat Wawrinka for his second title Down Under, he will become only the third man along with Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to win each of the four Grand Slam titles twice.
Passage to final
After romping to early round wins against Thanasi Kokkinakis from Australia and flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils, he dispatched Kei Nishikori before being given a scare by young Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. He overcame a bad blister on his left hand to win in four.
He then produced his very best to ease past old foe Roger Federer 7-6 (7/4) 6-3 6-3 - and secure his 23rd in 33 meetings between the pair.
Now for the final and Nadal has not dropped a set to Wawrinka in their 12 previous meetings let alone lose a set but though the Swiss will be appearing in his first major final, the top seed said he expected an extremely tough battle.
"I saw him play against Novak (Djokovic) and I saw him play against (Tomas) Berdych," he said.
"He's playing great. He's a good friend, great guy. So, happy for him that he's in the final. He deserves it. He's playing better and better every year.
"He's serving unbelievable. He's hitting the ball very strong from the baseline. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have chances because he's coming to this match with a lot of victories and playing great."
Although Melbourne has been troublesome venue for the Spaniard, he is glad to have made another final.
"Lot of years I didn't have a chance to play (well) in this tournament that I really love, so it is very special to have the chance to be in the final again."
Stan is ready
Wawrinka is guaranteed to climb to world No 5 and would move up to third by taking the title, but he only has to watch Nadal's semi-final destruction of his Swiss countryman Federer to remind him of what a formidable task he has ahead.
However, 'Stan The Man' will take comfort from the fact three of his last four sets against Nadal have gone to tie-breaks, while he ended a similar losing streak against Djokovic in the quarter-finals, which he won 9-7 in the decider.
"I played him so many times, lost so many times, but I'm going to try again. I know what I have to do: I know that I have to play aggressive, serve really well, and try to always push him," said the 28-year-old.
"His game is quite tough for me, especially with my one-handed backhand. But I did some good matches last year against him. I've found a few things that I will try.
"I'm playing my best tennis here, physically I'm ready. I had two days off, so that's perfect for me before the final. I'm going to try everything."
In the opening match of the day on Rod Laver Arena, Wimbledon mixed-doubles champions Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor will be aiming to secure their second Grand Slam title together when they take on six-seeded pair Sania Mirza and Horia Tecau.