MELBOURNE, Australia – Rafa Nadal edged Daniil Medvedev in a classic Australian Open final on Sunday, January 30, roaring back from two sets down to claim a record 21st Grand Slam title only months after fearing his glorious career might be over due to injury.
With Novak Djokovic forced out by deportation and Roger Federer recovering from knee surgery, the Spanish great is now one major title clear of his ‘Big Three’ rivals after surviving the 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 thriller at Rod Laver Arena.
“It was one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career,” Nadal said after the 5-hour, 24-minute epic.
“It’s just amazing now (given) one month and a half ago I didn’t know if I will be able to be back on the tour playing tennis again.
“And today I’m here in front of all of you having this trophy with me.”
Riding a wave of raucous support from the crowd, a vintage Nadal pulled off one of his finest performances to deny Medvedev again, less than three years after leaving the Russian heartbroken in five sets at the 2019 US Open final.
In a match steeped in drama, Nadal was two points from the title but was broken as he served for the match at 5-4.
He held firm to break Medvedev again and served out the match to love, rushing in to deliver a backhand volley as a stunning coup de grace.
Dropping his racket, Nadal shook his head and grinned, then kicked a tennis ball away and pumped his fists in delight.
Tributes flew in from around the world, with Federer and Djokovic quick to congratulate him.
“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion,” Federer wrote on social media.
“Amazing achievement,” said Serbian Djokovic. “Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”
It was a triumph that defied time and logic, the 35-year-old completing his first five-set win from a two-set deficit in 15 years – since overhauling Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2007.
Having suffered four final defeats in 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019, Nadal can now savor a second Melbourne Park crown, 13 years after beating Federer in the 2009 decider.
The long hair and pirate shorts of that decade have fallen by the wayside, but the class and fighting spirit endure in the face of Nadal’s titanic battles to recover from injuries.
Having missed Wimbledon due to fatigue and the US Open because of a chronic condition in his left foot, Nadal was on the brink of quitting in late-2021 and felt blessed just to turn up at Melbourne Park this year.
His ability to play seven matches felt miraculous for the Spaniard, who joins Djokovic, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to win each Grand Slam title twice.
Now more than ever, world No. 1 Djokovic may rue his failed bid to defend his title in Melbourne without COVID-19 vaccination.
His deportation threw the tournament wide open, leaving a vacuum for Nadal to fill and strike a potentially decisive blow in the Grand Slam race.
‘The kid stopped dreaming’
Just making the second week at Melbourne Park felt miraculous for the Spaniard, who joins Djokovic, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to win all four Grand Slam titles at least twice each.
Thrashed by Djokovic in last year’s final, US Open champion Medvedev has now lost three out of his four major deciders.
Often booed and heckled by sections of the shamelessly pro-Nadal crowd, Medvedev admitted the frosty reception had hurt him, and he was still raw hours after the match.
After a lengthy monologue in his post-match media conference, Medvedev said he would gladly skip Wimbledon or the French Open if he could instead play in front of home fans in Russia.
“The kid stopped dreaming. The kid is going to play for himself,” he said with emotion.
“It will be tougher to continue tennis when it’s like this.”
The hyped-up crowd was often unruly and one intruder jumped on the court to protest Australia’s detention of refugees as Nadal struggled to serve out the second set.
After a brief delay as the protester was bundled off court by security, Medvedev went two sets up after sealing the tiebreak and flapped his hands at the crowd with a smirk.
It proved a red rag to a bull as Nadal and the terraces united to harry Medvedev through the rest of the match.
The Russian was left begging for crowd control from the chair umpire as Nadal stormed back into the game.
“They are idiots. No brains. Empty brains. Probably in their life it must be very bad,” he grumbled during a change of ends.
The 25-year-old’s frustrations only grew as the match wore on and his court coverage waned. He frowned as a trainer worked on his left thigh but dragged himself out to make a game of it.
Nadal, however, was not to be denied.
Ten years Medvedev’s senior, with creaky knees and a suspect foot, the Spaniard finished full of running, showing himself and the world that further records. – Rappler.com