As fireworks lit up the night sky around Melbourne Park in celebration of Australia Day, the crowd inside the Rod Laver Arena were treated to an explosive performance from Stanislas Wawrinka as the new Swiss No. 1 assaulted Rafael Nadal with a series of fizzing forehands and crackling backhands.
Wawrinka, who moves up to three in the world rankings, proved far too much for his opponent as he won 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 to become the first man in 21 years to beat the top two seeded players en route to lifting a grand slam title.
The 28-year-old Wawrinka dominated from the start - using his sublime one-handed backhand to excellent effect. For the first time in 27 attempts covering 13 matches, Wawrinka had won a set against Nadal.
Then, just like London buses, two came at once - but Nadal appeared to be on the verge of retiring in the second set, when he hurt his back and needed a medical time out.
- Take nothing away from Wawrinka.
- Yes, Nadal was at half-pace from the moment his back went midway through the second set, but the Swiss had dominated up to that point and did not look like letting up.
- The history records will simply say Wawrinka beat Nadal in four sets - and that's how this match should be remembered.
- Nadal had a great tournament, but Wawrinka thoroughly deserved his victory and this man has the potential to go on and be a multiple grand slam champion.
- A new era for not only Swiss tennis, but for the sport as a whole.
- Alex Perry, Assistant Editor, ESPN.co.uk
Nadal has had a terrible stretch with injuries at the Australian Open, and has described it as his unluckiest grand slam. He missed the 2013 edition during a seven-month layoff with knee injuries and illness, and his quarter-final losses in 2010 and 2011 were affected by injuries.
Suddenly the atmosphere in the Rod Laver Arena was strangely subdued. And it left Wawrinka fuming. He sat in his chair and raged at umpire Carlos Ramos, demanding to know why Nadal was taking a break. The frustration was understandable, it would not have been in Wawrinka's game plan to deal with a half-pace Nadal. And he certainly would not have wanted to have won by default - the first time that would have happened in a men's slam final since Stefan Edberg retired with a torn stomach muscle against Ivan Lendl in this very competition in 1990.
Nadal eventually returned - unpunished despite taking two minutes more than the allowed time - and was even booed by a few spectators. But the break in play caused little problems and Wawrinka went on to dominate the remainder of the second set.
Nadal slumped into his chair, his head in his hands, on the verge of tears and at one point swaying towards the net as if ready to throw in the towel.
But then the painkillers seemed to kick in, and in the blink of an eye the Spaniard was in the ascendancy. Wawrinka's feathers were ruffled and even a few swift punches to the side of his own cranium could not get him fired up enough to prevent Nadal cruising to the third set and leaving Wawrinka to rue the missed opportunity.
It proved to be a mere blip.
Wawrinka got his eye back on the ball and, much like in the first set, dominated proceedings with a series of blistering backhands. After two hours and 21 minutes, the championship-winning forehand flew past Nadal.
Wawrinka slowly raised his arms to the air, barely breaking into a smile. He knew he had beaten a half-fit Nadal, who was quick to assure his opponent that he was a thoroughly deserving winner.
"Hello everyone," Wawrinka said as he approached the microphone to collect his trophy and winner's cheque from 14-time grand slam champion and twice winner of the Australian Open Pete Sampras.
"Rafa, I am really sorry for you. I hope your back is going to be fine. You are a brilliant champion and it is always a pleasure to play against you. Well done for your comeback to become world No. 1, you are always so professional and lovely to everyone so it is great to have you back."
Stan the man in Australian Open mind game
- Stanislas Wawrinka's Australian Open triumph proved to everyone - himself included - that he has the physical ability to match the world's very best, but perhaps even more importantly he showed the mental fortitude to go with it as well, writes Chris Wilkinson.
- Click here to read the full column
As Nadal wiped a tear from his eye, Wawrinka added: "I love playing here. Last year I had a crazy match [against Novak Djokovic] and I was crying a lot after that match - but in the last year a lot has happened and I'm still not sure if I am dreaming or not so I will see tomorrow morning.
"I would like to congratulate my team, and say thank you to my beautiful wife and daughter. I am coming home in two days and I can't wait."
Nadal added: "[Wawrinka] played unbelievable to win that title. I'm very happy for him. He is a great friend of mine and he deserved it.
"I played a few great matches - against Monfils and Federer. I played enough well to be in the final. I go home knowing I did as much as I can."
When asked about his back, the Spaniard replied: "In that moment I was too worried to think what happened. My physio tried to relax it a bit - but I [wanted] to finish the match for the crowd, for the opponent, and for me.
"[But] this is not the moment to talk about the back. I'm disappointed and sad about what happened, and the crowd wants to watch the best match possible. I was not able to do that for them. I understand their reaction and you will never hear me talk badly about the crowd here.
"But this is Stan's day, not my day."