In reaching the final after missing last year's tournament Nadal
has cemented his world No. 1 ranking and will be hard to shift from
the summit but below him the landscape is changing.
Novak Djokovic, whose bid for a fourth consecutive Australian Open
title was thwarted by the inspired Wawrinka, remains No. 2 but both
Andy Murray and Roger Federer are falling, to numbers six and eight
There are mitigating factors in Murray's case because he missed the
final third of last year because of a back surgery which, as proved
in his loss to Federer, will require time before he regains his
former strength and power.
Federer, who played beautifully to reach the semis, was outplayed by
Nadal and the suspicion remains that while still majestic at his
best, his chances of adding to his record haul of 17 grand slam
titles are receding.
Wawrinka's wonderful fortnight in Melbourne has propelled him to
third in the rankings, making him Switzerland's number one after a
career spent in Federer's shadow.
At number four is burly Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who before
Wawrinka's defeat of Nadal, was the last player to muscle into the
grand slam winners' club dominated for the past decade by Federer,
Nadal, Djokovic and more recently Murray.
Del Potro's second-round exit in Melbourne can be seen as a blip and
with his injury woes behind him he will be dangerous at all the
remaining slams this year.
Melbourne semi-finalist Tomas Berdych, at number seven, will also
take heart from Wawrinka's breakthrough after regularly reaching the
business end of grand slam tournaments, only to fall short against
the big guns.
Spain's David Ferrer will slip from three to five in Monday's
ranking list and while he will continue to hustle and bustle, his
career looks unlikely to include a major title.
Although the quartet of Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Federer will,
for now, continue to be the first names brought up when talking of
the main challengers at the big tournaments, the gap between them
and the rest is shrinking.
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Wawrinka, still at the peak of his powers at 28, is the spearheading
the assault with Del Potro and Berdych in close support, but others
are lurking in the undergrowth.
Bulgaria's 22-year-old Grigor Dimitrov will enter the world's top 20
for the first time and his run to the quarter-finals in Australia
where he hade Nadal in all sorts of trouble could prove a pivotal
moment in his career.
Japan's Kei Nishikori is growing in stature and Canadian Milos
Raonic has the serve and forehand to do damage.
They will all move on from Australia with an extra spring in their
step, believing that they will not necessarily have to wait for the
current golden generation to step aside before they can make their
Former world number three Ivan Ljubicic summed up the mood.
"I wonder how many players went: "oh, so it can be done!" the
Croatian said on Twitter following Wawrinka's victory.
The women's game has also been given a shake-up this past fortnight
with Serena Williams surprisingly beaten by a rejuvenated Ana
Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova losing to Dominika Cibulkova and Victoria
Azarenka going out Agnieszka Radwanska.
China's Li Na is not exactly a new kid on the block but in winning
her second grand slam title could well have an eye on the No.1
ranking this year, should Williams fall below the incredible
standards she set in 2013.
Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, who reached the semi-finals in Australia,
will lead the challenge from the next generation.
The Australian Open, far from being a predictable romp for the
favourites, has breathed new life into the sport and the months
ahead promise to be engrossing as the heavyweights try to stand
their ground under fire from multiple directions.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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