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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 30, 2022

 
Rafa Nadal

A resilient Rafael Nadal roared back from two sets down defeating Daniil Medvedev in an epic Australian Open final to win a record 21st Grand Slam championship.

Photo credit: Getty

A fierce fight raged five frenetic hours as the court-side clock crept past 1 a.m.

A recharged Rafael Nadal was too busy turning back time to notice.

Unleashing the warrior within, Nadal delivered the comeback of his career battling by Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to capture a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title in an epic and astounding Australian Open final.

The king of clay stands alone as Major Monarch. 

The 35-year-old Nadal surpassed Big 3 rivals Roger Federer, who is recovering from a fourth knee surgery, and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is likely ruing his decision to dodge the jab and miss out his Melbourne defense, as Grand Slam king.




"I don’t know what to say, for me it’s just amazing," Nadal told the crowd. "Being honest, one month and a half ago I didn’t know if I would be able to be back on the tour again. You really don’t know how much I fight to be here. I can’t thank you enough [for] all the support I receive since I arrive here.

"You are just amazing. Thank you so much for the love and support; without a doubt probably one of the most emotional moments in my tennis career having the huge support I received during the last three weeks. It's just gonna stay in my heart for the rest of my life so many, many thanks."

Rod Laver Arena was once a house of pain for Nadal, who had suffered four devastating AO finals losses since out-dueling Federer in a classic 2009 final for his lone Melbourne crown.

Tonight, Nadal turned the place into a bounce house and brought 15,000 raucous fans, including the legendary Rocket Rod himself, along for the ride in a match that was exhausting, exhilarating, euphoric and an absolutely crazy thrill ride for all who witnessed it and the millions of sleep-deprived fans around the world watching on TV. It had wild momentum shifts, inspired shotmaking, an intruder leaping onto the court and burning intensity from both men.



The sixth-seeded Nadal scraped himself out of a bleak two-set hole becoming the first man in Open Era history to fight back from two sets down to win the Australian Open final. Contesting his 29th major final, Nadal is the first man to rally from a two-set deficit in the final since Roy Emerson stopped Fred Stolle 7-9, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 in the 1965 all-Aussie AO final.

"If we put everything together, the scenario, the momentum, what it means. Yeah, without a doubt probably have been the biggest comeback of my tennis career," Nadal said.

This was five hours and 24 minutes of a sweaty, spirited fight that saw both men pour every piece of themselves into a fascinating final. It was a rematch of Nadal's pulsating five-set triumph over Medvedev in the 2019 US Open final.

No one pummels deflation into elation like Nadal, who battled a bout with Coronavirus last month, was sidelined for the second half of 2021 with a chronic foot injury he feared may be career threatening and shared he felt “completely destroyed” after scoring a sweaty four hour, eight-minute triumph over Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals.

Arriving in Melbourne wondering if it could be his farewell to Oz, Nadal took the blows and the battering and channeled it into resurrection creating career-defining championship that had Melbourne fans chanting his name.

Spare a thought for Medvedev, who saved a set point in the second set, seemed to have control of the match for two-and-a-half-sets and did it all against an overwhelmingly pro-Nadal crowd.

Playing his second straight AO final, Medvedev cracked more winners (76 to 69), hit two more aces (23 to 3) and won more total points than Nadal (189 to 182) and kept fighting even after his two-set lead dissolved.

Ultimately, the second-ranked Russian succumbed to Nadal’s ferocious intensity, all-court acumen and his own mind-numbing self-sabotage over-playing the drop shot at crucial times. Medvedev showed class in the aftermath.

"Tough to talk after five hours and 30; after losing," Medvedev said. "What Rafa did today was amazing...

"It was insane. The level was very high. You raised your level after two sets for the 21st Grand Slam. You are an amazing champion, I think you guys have a good rivalry still. Congrats, it was unbelievable."




The title was there for Medvedev’s taking, but Nadal’s will and skill for the timely strike was just too much.

It is a legacy-defining win summarizing the values Nadal has exuded his entire career in one wild night.

"Of course, for me it's amazing to achieve another Grand Slam at this moment of my career," Nadal said. "Just means a lot to me. Of course, I know it's a special number, 21...

"I feel honored. I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career. I don't care much if I am the one or not the one or the best of the history, not the best of the history. Honestly today I don't care much, no? "For me it's about enjoying nights like today. That means everything for me, no?"



The opening set belonged to Medvedev who looked fresher and faster.

The reigning US Open champion cruised through his fourth consecutive game capping the 42-minute opening set playing clean, convincing baseline tennis. Medvedev committed just five errors compared to 16 for Nadal, who scattered nine backhand errors and struggled to defend serve in the set.

Melbourne fans roared to rouse Nadal and he answered the call.

In an adventurous 40-ball rally, Nadal endured everything Medvedev threw at him then bamboozled the Russian pulling the string on an audacious angled backhand drop shot for double break point. Nadal drew an errant backhand breaking for a 3-1 second-set lead. Cruising forward, Nadal knifed a high backhand volley closing his most convincing hold of the night for 4-1.




Midway through the second set, both men were grunting with more vigor as exchanges intensified. Medvedev bolted a backhand down the line and fired a forehand down the opposite sideline as he broke back in the seventh game.

Mixing high heavy topspin with biting low slice, Nadal tomahawked one of his heaviest forehands and followed it tapping a drop shot. Medvedev, who slipped on the “Melbourne” sign embedded behind the baseline, stumbled as the Spaniard broke back for 5-3.

Tension tightened as Nadal denied two break points carving out a pair of volleys then faced a third break point when an intruder leaped onto the court before security quickly convened and evicted the transgressor. Another slick drop shot from sixth seed saved a third break point before Medvedev staved off set point.

In the face of superb shot-making from his opponent and spiking support from the crowd, Medvedev stood tall converting his fifth break point to snatch a tough 13-minute game and extend the set.

Deadlocked at 5-all in the tiebreaker, Medvedev played brazen ball dipping a drop shot to draw Nadal in then slashing a backhand drive volley for set point. The rangy Russian scripted his signature shot—the backhand down the line—sealing a two-set lead and waving his arms exhorting fans to make more noise.




It was a heartbreaking result to a rollercoaster set for Nadal who was twice up a break—at 3-1 and 5-3—held a set point in the ninth game and could taste a brewing one-set battle.

The 2009 champion could not create closure against an opponent whose wide wingspan and prescience reading patterns made him look like a man driven by an inner GPS.

Medvedev, who owned an imposing 41-1 record in majors when winning the first two sets, went airborne leaping into a Safin-style backhand bolt for triple break point in the sixth game. If Medvedev had converted any one of those break points, he may have charted a straight-sets win, but Nadal was far from done.

"Just got a little bit tight. But, again, that's tennis," Medvedev said. "Should have done better. Should have hit a winner. Maybe would have won the match. Tactically nothing changed. I feel like I was playing right. But Rafa stepped up."

A reeling Nadal dug in with a champion’s defiance fending off all three break points to keep flickering hope alive, 3-3.

The flicker flamed as Medvedev made a mind-blowing miss tapping an easy drop shot into net. Nadal made him pay torching a running pass down the line to break for 5-4.

The warrior will Nadal exudes was burning bright when he hammered a forehand winner down the line forcing a fourth set and inciting a wall of sound from fans.

Tennis Express

Dabbing drop shots in the short court to test his opponent’s legs, nerve and stamina, Nadal saved break points to hold for 1-all in the fourth set. By then, Nadal had warded off 11 of 15 break points.

A charging Nadal and growing jitters conspired against Medvedev who dumped a double fault into the net donating the break and a 2-1 fourth-set lead to Nadal. Medvedev offered a sarcastic thumbs-up to fans, some of whom responded to the taunts with boos.




Taking treatment from the trainer on his legs during the ensuing changeover, Medvedev reset breaking back. The Russian repelled three straight break points—catching a big break when Nadal narrowly missed a diagonal forehand on the third break point—fought off a fourth with an electric forehand down the line and saved six break points in all.

Purple shirt soaked to his skin, Nadal tormented the Russian with another drop shot then poked an angled backhand pass converting his seventh break point for a 3-2 fourth-set lead.

On the ensuing changeover, an ornery Medvedev urged chair umpire John Blum to exert crowd control and quiet “the idiots” cheering before his second serves.

Four hours into the fight, Nadal blinked spraying successive forehands and missing a backhand to face double break point in the eighth game.

A misguided Medvedev again badly bungled a backhand drop shot on the second break point. Nadal slid his second ace down the middle for 5-3. Medvedev saved a set point in the ninth game before Nadal slammed shut the fourth set forcing this die-hard duel into a decider after four hours, 12 minutes.

Punishing play that spanned corner to corner left the 35-year-old Nadal looking a little fresher than the 25-year-old Medvedev, who received more deep massage on his legs after holding for a 2-1 fifth-set lead.

Four hours, 39-minutes into the match, Nadal turned back time and torched a running forehand down the line that singed the sideline. That sensational strike gave Nadal the break and a 3-2 lead—his first since he held a 2-1 advantage in the opening set
inspiring fans to erupt in the wave.

Digging in with defiance, Nadal saved three break points hitting his spot with the slider serve wide scraping through a 13-and-a-half minute grind with a leaping smash for 4-2.

"Was a huge match. Rafa played unreal," Medvedev said. "Raised his level. I mean, two sets to love up, I was like, C'mon, just go for him, go for more.

"In fifth set, I was like make him run. He was unreal. He was really strong, like the way he played, at four hours I was even surprised. But, of course, we know how Rafa can play. He didn't play for six months. He told me after the match that he didn't practice so much. It was unreal."

A wildly dramatic final careened to another plot twist as Nadal double faulted up 30-15 while serving for it. Medvedev pounced with a smash that helped him break back for 5-all. The Russian repelled two break points but sprayed a forehand beyond the baseline on the third as Nadal broke for 6-5.

Stepping up to the line to serve for history again, Nadal crossed the finish line with a flourish firing his third ace for championship point.



Thirteen years after Nadal edged Federer in a five-set thriller that pushed the Swiss to tears, he streaked forward to take history on the rise. Knocking a short backhand volley, Nadal watched Medvedev's scraped reply fly harmlessly.

Closing at net, Nadal dropped his Babolat racquet and beamed.

A fighter to the finish, Nadal fittingly scaled the Grand Slam mountain on the same Melbourne court where he faced so many painful pitfalls.

Unwavering perseverance, unconquerable spirit and now Nadal is unquestionably Grand Slam king.

"At the end for the history is about the victory, no?" Nadal said. "But the way that you win the match in terms of personal feelings is different. The way that I achieved this trophy tonight have been just unforgettable, one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career, without a doubt. Means a lot to me."

 

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