Wawrinka hit twice as many winners as Nadal and won more points, but when it mattered most, Nadal proved why he is one of the hardest men to put away.
When the Swiss broke Nadal’s serve with an exquisite forehand winner to level the first set at 5-5 and then nosed 6-5 ahead, the momentum had shifted his way.
At 5-5 in the tiebreak Wawrinka had his foe pinned against the ropes, but somehow the Spaniard extricated himself with a desperate lob that forced a rash error from his opponent. When Wawrinka stumbled on the next point, Nadal darted in to swat away a forehand.
Losing a 25th consecutive set to Nadal left Wawrinka staring at the equivalent of a sheer Swiss rock face, but he launched a stirring fightback from 4-1 down in the second only to see Nadal save a set point with a powerful smash.
All is not lost for Wawrinka, who can still qualify for the semi-finals if he beats David Ferrer today, providing Tomas Berdych does not beat Nadal in the final group games.
“It’s all about me for the next one,” Wawrinka, who beat Berdych on Monday, told reporters. “I showed today that I’m playing my best tennis, that I can really, really fight.”
Berdych kept his hopes of a semi-final spot alive with a solid 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Ferrer, who looked weary after seven consecutive weeks on the road.