Rafael Nadal made history again in the early hours of Monday morning as he came back from two sets at love to claim his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
Under the lights of the Rod Laver Arena, the legendary Spaniard looked down on Daniil Medvedev. However, the sixth seed showed his big game mentality, beating the Russian 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in front of a raucous crowd in a Melbourne classic.
With his spectacular win, Nadal claimed sole ownership of the record for most Grand Slam men’s singles titles, overtaking Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who both have 20 Major crowns. The 35-year-old, who also lifted the trophy in Melbourne in 2009, became just the second Open Era player alongside Djokovic to win each of the four major tournaments at least twice.
“It was one of the most emotional matches of my career,” Nadal said at the award ceremony. “Sharing the court with Daniil was just an honour. It’s amazing. To be honest, a month and a half ago I wasn’t sure if I could come back to the Tour playing tennis. But today, I am here in front of all of you with this trophy in front of me. You are just amazing, thank you so much.
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In a high-quality, physical match that fluctuated, a pumped-up Nadal showed his fighting spirit to water down a searing performance from Medvedev. With his back firmly against the wall after the second set, Nadal’s champion mindset shone as he began to hit Medvedev more successfully in a brutal, hard-hitting performance to turn the tables. He rallied from 2-3, 0/40 on serve in the third set to change the momentum of the match. In the fifth set, he squandered his first opportunity to serve out the match, but sealed his victory on the second request.
This is only the fourth time Nadal has come back from two sets at love in his career. The last time he accomplished this was nearly 15 years ago when he beat Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2007. The last Australian Open champion to return after two sets to win was in 1965 when Roy Emerson beat Fred Stolle.
The world No. 5 was aggressive from the baseline throughout, showing excellent footwork to round his backhand and dictate with his topspin forehand. The sixth seed shot 67 winners, closed the net effectively to shorten the points and broke seven times to triumph after five hours and 25 minutes.
Nadal now leads Medvedev 4-1 in their ATP Head2Head series, with this second meeting in a Grand Slam final. At the US Open in 2019, Medvedev went from two sets to love before Nadal prevailed in the decision in an epic Flushing Meadows.
“Having the huge support I received over the last three weeks is going to stay in my heart for the rest of my life, so thank you very much,” Nadal added.
Most Grand Slam men’s singles titles (of all time)
After the Citi Open last August, the former world No. 1 did not compete for the rest of the year due to a left foot injury. It was his second tournament since. But the Spaniard played in Australia like he had never been away, his win over the Russian taking his perfect 2022 record to 10-0.
The 35-year-old, who won his 89th tour-level title at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, was tested to his limits en route to the Championship game, overtaking Denis Shapovalov in five sets in the quarter-finals finals, before he beat seventh-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini in the semi-finals. However, he kept enough fuel in the tank to dig deep against Medvedev one last time to claim victory.
“Difficult to speak after playing [for] five hours and 30 minutes and lose, but I want to congratulate Rafa because what he did today I was amazed,” Medvedev said. “After the game, I asked him: ‘Are you tired?’ because it was crazy. You raised your level after the first two sets for your 21st Grand Slam title. You are an incredible champion, it was incredible.
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Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
In a quick start, Medvedev quickly found his range against Nadal, forcing the Spaniard to make mistakes as he showed his impressive defensive skills to stay in brutal rallies. The Russian read Nadal’s serve well, breaking the 35-year-old’s love interest in back-to-back service games to take a 5-2 lead before retaining the lead.
In a mammoth second set that swirled one way and then the other, both were strong on the return as they matched the intensity of the other on the floor. Nadal twice had a break advantage but couldn’t put the Russian away as Medvedev recovered from 1-4 and then 3-5.
Medvedev saved a set point on the Spaniard’s serve at 3-5, Ad-Nadal, before finally coming back as they moved to a tie-break. Starting on the 4/5, Medvedev raised his level, setting a set point with a volley winner, which he then converted by guiding a backhand pass down the line, raising his arms in celebration.
But Nadal showed everyone his fighting spirit at the start of the third set. He held crucially from 0/40 to 2-3 before turning the screw on Medvedev with his brutal strike to break. Serving for the set, the Spaniard opened his shoulders and fired three winners to win the set, roaring with delight as he gained a foothold in the match.
A pumped up and invigorated Nadal continued to attack in the fourth set. He fended off two break points early in the set before finding the breakthrough on Medvedev’s serve as he pulled the world No. 2 from corner to corner with his brutal strike.
Medvedev refused to leave, responding immediately when Nadal fired a long forehand, but Nadal once again demonstrated his fighting spirit, sealing his second straight break with a deft backhand cross pass. The Spaniard beat 23 winners in the set and effectively came back behind the Russian in the forehand corner to equalise.
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Nadal then showcased his supreme fitness levels in the decider, not letting his intensity wane in the fifth set. The former world No. 1 fired a forehand winner down the line to break for a 3-2 advantage as the Spaniard took the lead for the first time in the match since the start of the first set, over four hours earlier. .
The 35-year-old then raced through a 14-minute service game, firing three big first serves to fend off three more break points, but was unable to serve as Medvedev came from 4-5 down. /30 behind level. . However, Nadal was not to be denied, immediately backing down before finally putting Medvedev to bed on the second request.
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Medvedev, who also reached the final in Melbourne last year, was trying to become the first Open Era male player to follow his first major trophy with his second at the upcoming Grand Slam, after triumphing at the US Open in September.
The world No. 2 beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals to advance to his fourth major final, equaling compatriot Marat Safin’s all-time record for most appearances by a Russian in a Slam league match .
Did you know?
The 35-year-old is the third oldest man in the open era to win a Grand Slam title after Ken Rosewall and Federer.