Rafael Nadal got to 21 first, breaking the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles and doing it the hard way by coming back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in an almost five-and-a-half hour Australian Open final.
Nadal was broken when serving for the championship for the first time at 5-4 in the fifth set, but made no mistake two games later. The Spanish sixth seed served an ace to earn three championship points and converted it on the first attempt.
The 35-year-old now has one major title more than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic (20 trophies each), his long-time rivals in the so-called ‘Big Three’. In the title decider that started Sunday night and finished early Monday morning, Nadal secured an epic 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory over No.2 Medvedev of Russia. The final was delayed by a bit in the 84-minute second set when a protestor jumped onto the court at the Rod Laver Arena.
“Good evening. No, good morning!” Nadal, looking at his watch, told the crowd when he finally got up for his acceptance speech at 1:30 am local time. In the background, Rod Laver, the ageing Australian tennis great, was in the stands holding up his smartphone to capture the scenes. A woman nearby held up a sign that stated: “Rafa is the GOAT.”
Nadal said that it had been “one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career,” and praised runner-up Medvedev for the part he played in the 5-hour, 24-minute summit clash. It was the second longest Australian Open final ever, after Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2012 decider that lasted 5:53.
His victory was even more remarkable considering Nadal flew to Australia with just two matches under his belt in the second half of 2021. He was sidelined with a chronic foot injury that can be treated but not cured and also overcame a bout of COVID-19. “For me, it is just amazing. Being honest, one-and-a-half months ago, I didn’t know if I would be able to play on the tour again,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt, (it has) probably been one of the most emotional months in my tennis career.”
Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and lost four other finals at Melbourne Park before his dramatic win over reigning US Open champion Medvedev.
His conversion rate in major finals is now 21 out of 29. Federer and Djokovic each have 20 majors from 31 final appearances.
Medvedev, who was aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the very next major, was ever-so-close to spoiling another 21st celebration. Medvedev now joins Andy Murray among those who have lost the final at the next major tournament after their career breakthrough at the highest level.
RESULTS:Men’s singles: Final: Nadal bt Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5
Women’s doubles: Final: Krejcikova/Siniakova bt Danilina/Haddad Maia 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4