Remarkably Nadal managed to win the third set but Wawrinka eventually got his focus back in the fourth to clinch a 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory.defeated an injured Rafael Nadal in a dramatic Australian Open final to win his first grand slam title.
Wawrinka was a huge underdog having never won a set in 12 previous matches against Nadal, but he played superbly to break that sequence and was in control of the second when the world number one suffered a back injury.
Remarkably Nadal managed to win the third set but Wawrinka eventually got his focus back in the fourth to clinch a 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory.
Wawrinka was battling himself more than his opponent, and two more break points went begging at the start of the fourth set, a set he desperately needed to win.
But the Swiss was handling events much better, holding his own serve easily, and he finally broke Nadal to lead 4-2.
Incredibly, he was then broken back to love, but Nadal’s serve was still his big weakness and Wawrinka struck once more to move to within a game of victory.
This time he held his serve to love, raising his hands in delight and relief, although his muted celebrations reflected the strange circumstances of his maiden grand slam triumph.
Wawrinka becomes only the second man after Juan Martin del Potro to break the big four’s stranglehold on slam titles since Marat Safin won the Australian Open in 2005.
Pete Sampras had been expecting to mark Nadal’s equalling of his 14 grand slam titles but instead the American presented the trophy to a disbelieving Wawrinka.
The Swiss is the first man to beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal at the same grand slam, and turning to the Spaniard he said: “I’m really sorry for you and I hope your back is going to be fine.
“You’re a really great guy, a good friend and an amazing champion. It’s always a pleasure to play with you.
“Last year I lost a crazy match and I was crying a lot. I still don’t know if I’m dreaming but we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
Nadal had hoped to become the first man in the Open era to win every grand slam title at least twice, but that will have to wait.
The 27-year-old said: “Many thanks to Stan, you really deserve it and I’m very happy for you. We have a great relationship. Bad luck was against me today but you really deserve this.
“It’s been a very emotional two weeks and I’m sorry to finish this way. I tried very, very hard.
“Last year was a very tough moment when I didn’t have the chance to be playing here. Playing this year has been one of the most emotional tournaments in my career.”