Rafael Nadal stands alone among tennis legends after fighting back to defeat Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final for his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title.
Sixth-seeded Nadal dropped the first two sets to second-seeded Medvedev before heading for a 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory in a match played over five hours and 24 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal’s remarkable run in Melbourne broke with longtime rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as all three had sat on 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
Medvedev got off to a warm start on Sunday, taking the opening set 6-2 as he broke Nadal’s serve twice, with the Russian appearing to have full control as he has the entire tournament.
The 25-year-old was seen grumbling over the sweat from Nadal on the pitch several times, while other delays in the use of towels and water meant the opening set took far longer than necessary.
Nadal was able to strike back almost immediately in the second set, but broke Medvedev’s serve in a game that included an insane 40-shot rally between the pair.
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Nadal’s resurgence was stopped dead in his wake later in the second set despite breaking Medvedev’s serve for the second time as world No. 2 fought back and took it to the tiebreak.
Medvedev went down a couple of times in the tiebreak, but showed his class and came across the line with some great returns against Nadal’s serve, missing a marathon 84-minute second set as he looked set to win.
Both players seemed to be struggling with the humidity in Melbourne as they went to change clothes before the third set got underway before Medvedev was seen smashing bottles of pickle juice at various stages.
Medvedev’s serve remained rock solid in the third set, but he blew up a golden opportunity with three breakpoints midway through the set, allowing Nadal to stay alive – and that moment ultimately proved to be extremely costly.
He then began to engage the audience and made an uncharacteristically unforced error, which led to Nadal breaking his serve and ruling out the third set 6-4.
Two breaks for Nadal in the fourth set got the crowd on its feet as Medvedev seemed to start getting tired and distracted from the impending task, hitting the crowd and the referee.
Nadal would take the fourth set and start gaining momentum, with both players under incredible fatigue and limited in their movements across the field.
Medvedev started the fifth set reasonably well, and came out of his two service games fairly quickly without having to expend too much energy, but Nadal was more than ready for the challenge and got a huge break with a textbook pre-winner.
Nadal followed that up by saving four breakpoints, constantly fighting back and taking a 4-2 lead in the final set as the match exceeded the five-hour limits.
The crowd was right behind Nadal deep inside the fifth set, but just as it looked like he was ready to make it on the serve, Medvedev scored a huge break to keep the drama going.
Another break in serve to Nadal gave the opportunity to ice the match and avoid a tiebreak and that was exactly what he was capable of where Rod Laver Arena came undressed when he struck the final blow.
The victory is Nadal’s second title at the Australian Open and his first since 2009. It’s also the first Grand Slam for the Spanish legend since the French Open in 2020 – made even sweeter by the fact that the 35-year-old returned from a career-threatening footing. damage and tested positive for COVID in December.
As for Medvedev, he will likely have many sleepless nights after being up two sets against none, throwing his chance to become world No. 1 on the ATP rankings with Djokovic’s absence in the process away.