At the Net: Big Four, Big Three came up empty at Aussie

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Updated: 1/28/2014 10:08 am

Philadelphia, PA ( - For the first time since 2009, neither a member of the men's "Big Four" nor a representative of the women's "Big Three" could combine to produce at least one of the singles champions at a Grand Slam event.

That's what happened (or didn't happen) at the just-concluded Australian Open, where the men's titlist was (surprise) Stan Wawrinka -- not Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Roger Federer -- while the women's big winner in Melbourne was (surprise again) Li Na -- not Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova.

The last time a major event was held that neither a men's Big Four or women's Big Three member prevailed occurred at the 2009 U.S. Open, when Juan Martin del Potro came out on top among the fellas and since-retired Kim Clijsters ran the table among the gals.

Sure, the Big Three (women) have not completely dominated at all the major events since 2009, but the Big Four (men) certainly have. Prior to last week, either Nadal, Djokovic, Murray or Federer had accounted for 34 of the last 35 Grand Slam champs (a long nine-year span), with only del Potro sneaking in there.

All heck broke loose on the women's side last week when former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic stunned the current world No. 1 Serena in the fourth round in Oz. The 17-time Grand Slam singles titlist was riding a brilliant 25-match winning streak at the time and is the reigning U.S. and French Open champ.

Also in the women's unpredictable round of 16, the third-seeded former No. 1 Sharapova bowed out against eventual runner-up Dominika Cibulkova. In all fairness to the Russian superstar, she's still working off some rust after recently returning to action following a lengthy layoff due to a shoulder injury.

And then all bets were officially off in the ladies' draw when the two-time reigning champion and former top-ranked Azarenka was sent packing by crafty Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters. Vika hadn't lost in Melbourne since 2011.

By the time the women's final rolled around, only a fourth-seeded Li and 20th- seeded Cibulkova, who became the first-ever major finalist from the Slovak Republic after upsetting Radwanska in the semis, were still standing. And order was somewhat restored when the Chinese star subdued her diminutive European counterpart 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 in the finale.

Note: The defensive scrapper that is Cibulkova upended a pair of top-five players en route to the final, in Sharapova and Radwanska.

The charismatic Li, she of the WTA's finest backhand, became a two-time Grand Slam champion and a first-time Aussie Open winner. She captured the French Open in 2011 and had been a two-time Aussie runner-up, including last year at the hands of Azarenka. Her other Aussie runner-up finish came against Clijsters three years ago.

Li, who will turn 32 next month, is still the only Chinese player ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. She also became just the fourth woman to win the Aussie Open after saving a match point, which she did in the third round against Czech Lucie Safarova.

Back over on the men's side, Nadal and Djokovic were the pre-tournament favorites ... but no one told Wawrinka.

"Stan the Man" played some dazzling tennis for two weeks, becoming the first player to beat both Nadal and Djokovic at the same Grand Slam event and the first player to knock off the top-two seeds at a major since Sergi Bruguera at the 1993 French Open. The "Other Swiss" stunned the three-time reigning Aussie champion and former world No. 1 Djokovic in five sets in the quarterfinals and shocked the reigning U.S. and French Open champ and world No. 1 Nadal in the final, as Nadal was clearly unable to play his best ball due to an untimely back injury on the final day of the fortnight.

Note: The six-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic was riding a sizzling 28-match overall winning streak and a 25-match string at the Aussie.

The eighth-seeded Wawrinka fought his way past the hobbled superstar Nadal in four sets, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, on Australia Day. Nadal had tweaked his back during warm ups, took a medical timeout in the second set of the disappointing final, and was merely a shadow of himself on Day 14.

The 13-time major champion Nadal was trying to become the first man in the Open Era to win each Grand Slam twice, but Wawrinka took advantage of his unexpected opportunity by attacking Nadal's forehand, striking beautiful backhands down the line, and applying some serve-and-volley tennis on his way to the winner's circle.

The "Stanimal" had been 0-12 lifetime against the 2009 Aussie champion and 2012 runner-up Rafa and had never even taken a set off the mighty Spaniard. What a difference a back injury makes. And the Swiss slugger snapped a 14- match losing streak against Djokovic in the round of eight.

In between Nadal and Djokovic, Wawrinka, who boasts arguably the sweetest one- handed backhand in the game right now, doused former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych in the semis.

The first-time Grand Slam finalist (in his 36th Grand Slam event) Wawrinka became only the second Swiss player to corral a major singles title, joining his good friend Federer.

Wawrinka is still undefeated in 2014 at 10-0, including a season-opening title in India. He was rewarded with a jump all the way up to No. 3 in the world and, like Li Na, collected $2.35 million for his heroic efforts Down Under.

Meanwhile, the other residents of the Big Four -- Murray and Federer -- exited the men's draw in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. A fourth- seeded Murray, like Sharapova, also is on the mend, and it showed in a four- set loss against the former No. 1 and 17-time Grand Slam king Federer in the quarters. As for Federer, he bowed out in the semis, easily giving way to the great Nadal in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3, at Melbourne Park. Murray recently returned to action after being sidelined 3 1/2 months following back surgery.

The 32-year-old Federer, meanwhile, has dropped down to No. 8 in the world, his lowest ranking since 2002, despite reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open for an 11th straight year.

Is it finally time for the Big Four and Big Three to make room for some much- welcomed new stars?

Slow your roll.

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