Rafael Nadal roared back from two sets down to win a titanic five-set duel with Daniil Medvedev and make history with “a special” 21st Grand Slam men’s title in the Australian Open final on Sunday.
The Spanish great looked dead and buried as the Russian world number two carved out a two-set lead but Nadal surged home for one of his mightiest comeback wins 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in 5hr 24min on Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal came out on top in the physical war of attrition to move ahead of “Big Three” rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the all-time list of men’s major winners.
Djokovic missed his chance to improve on his nine Australian Open wins when he was deported over vaccination issues on the eve of the tournament, while Federer is injured.
It was one of the 35-year-old Spanish warrior’s greatest title victories in his 29th Grand Slam final as he won his second Australian Open, 13 years after his first in 2009.
“I just wanted to keep believing until the end to give me a chance and that’s what I did,” Nadal said.
“I kept fighting to try and find a solution, there a lot of moments that can decide a final like this.
“It means a lot to me and I know it’s a special number 21 and I know what it means, its significance.
“Today is an unforgettable day, but for the last six months I really fought a lot to get back on court and I feel honoured, I feel lucky to have one more very special thing in my career.
“I don’t care much about history, I enjoy nights like this that means everything to me, it’s important to get my second Australian Open more than anything else.” .
Nadal also became only the fourth man to win each of the four Grand Slams twice and the third oldest man in the Open Era (since 1970) to win a Grand Slam title, behind Ken Rosewall and Federer.
The final went down to the bitter end with Nadal being broken as he served for the championship only for the Spaniard to break back.
On his second attempt to serve it out, Nadal powered to three match points to win amid chaotic scenes in his player’s box and the frenzied crowd.
– ‘I was amazed’ –
It is the fourth time in his storied career that Nadal had clawed back to win from two sets down, but the first time in a Slam final.
It was the second time Nadal had denied Medvedev in a Grand Slam final, winning a five-set epic at the 2019 US Open. Nadal holds a 4-1 lead over Medvedev in their five matches to date.
It crowned an extraordinary effort from Nadal at the year’s opening major, having to modify his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that ended his 2021 season last August.
He then caught Covid in December which, he said, made him “very sick”.
Medvedev had wrecked Djokovic’s calendar Grand Slam push and bid for a 21st title in New York four months ago and was aiming to do the same to Nadal in Melbourne.
Medvedev lost his second consecutive Australian Open final after falling in straight sets to Djokovic in last year’s final.
“It’s tough to talk after five hours 30 and losing but I want to congratulate Rafa because what you did today, I was amazed,” Medvedev said.
“You raised your level after two sets for the 21st Grand Slam. I thought you were going to get tired, and maybe you did a little, but you still won the match. You are an amazing champion.”