Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open for record 21st major title
MELBOURNE, Australia — Seeking inspiration as he dropped two sets and faced a triple break point, with his chances of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title nearly exhausted, Rafael Nadal thought back to some of his defeats the most difficult.
A renowned competitor until the end, Nadal dug deep in that critical moment and won the next four points to survive the immediate threat from Daniil Medvedev. Minutes later, he held 3-3 in the third set and turned the momentum of the Australian Open final around.
Nadal eventually reached the top 21, setting the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles after a dramatic 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 comeback win which lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes and ended early Monday morning.
The 35-year-old Spaniard now has one more major title than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, his longtime rivals in the so-called Big Three.
He was the only one of the three lucky enough to claim the solo record in Australia.
Federer is still recovering from knee surgery and Djokovic was sensationally kicked out of Australia on the eve of the tournament because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is now ancient history that Nadal has become only the fourth man to win the sport’s four major titles at least twice.
“I kept telling myself throughout the game, ‘I lost a lot of times here having chances, sometimes I was a bit unlucky’,” Nadal said. “I just wanted to keep believing until the end.”
“This evening was unforgettable. I feel very lucky.
Nadal was broken when he first served at 5-4 in the fifth set, but he made no mistakes two games later, converting the first of his league points.
All told, “the storyline, the momentum,” he said, “without a doubt probably the biggest comeback of my tennis career.”
Certainly, he added, “The most unexpected. And the most surprising, I think, for everyone.
Federer and Djokovic watched, from a distance, and both used social media posts to congratulate Nadal on breaking their three-way tie atop the men’s Grand Slam rankings.
Nadal and Medvedev packed a lot of drama in the final which started on Sunday night, was delayed in the second set by 84 minutes when a human rights activist jumped onto the court and ended around 1:15 a.m. morning.
Nadal was serving for the second set but was broken in that game. Then Medvedev had his break moments again in the third set, but admitted he got tight.
“I should have done better. Should have hit a winner,” Medvedev said. “Maybe he would have won the match.”
“Tactically nothing has changed,” he added, “but Rafa stepped in.”
Indeed, he did. And at 1:30 a.m., he takes to the podium to deliver his victory speech.
“Good evening. No, hello!” Nadal joked looking at his watch.
In the background, Rod Laver, the aging Australian tennis great for whom Melbourne Park’s main stadium is named, waved his smartphone to capture the scenes. A nearby woman held up a sign that read, “Rafa is the GOAT.”
For now, in terms of major men’s titles at least, Nadal is the greatest of all time.
Nadal praised Medvedev for his role in what eventually became the second longest Australian Open final of all time. Nadal’s loss to Djokovic ten years ago lasted 5:53.
Nadal’s 21st Major title was even more remarkable considering he had two matches under his belt in the second half of 2021 as he was sidelined with a chronic foot injury. He also overcame a bout of COVID-19.
“To me, it’s just amazing,” he said, adding that was just six weeks ago. “I didn’t know if I could play on the tour again.”
Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and then lost four more finals here. His major finals conversion rate is now 21 out of 29.
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 tournament, was set to spoil another 21st celebration.
Djokovic was chasing the same record at the US Open last year and a calendar year Grand Slam, when Medvedev beat him in straight sets in the final.
Federer also had his chance at 21, but Djokovic stopped it after saving match points en route to winning the 2019 Wimbledon final.
For Nadal, it was only the fourth time – and the first since 2007 – that he had rallied after two sets to win a best-of-five-set match. It’s the first time this has happened in the Australian Open final since 1965.
Medvedev, who lost the 2021 final in Melbourne to Djokovic, began his post-match press conference by talking about having been “a youngster who dreamed of big things in tennis” who has now grown a little disillusioned. He later spoke of being disappointed with the way the spectators treated him in the final and earlier in the tournament.
“From now on I play for myself,” Medvedev said. “For my family. To support my family, people who trust me. Of course for all Russians, because I feel a lot of support there.
Medvedev continued his love-hate relationship with Australian crowds. He remained calm for the first two sets before complaining about the shouting and noise between the first and second serves.
After Nadal beat him in the third game of the fourth set, on a double fault, Medvedev headed for the change giving an ironic thumbs up to the crowd.
There was an exchange of breaks but Nadal took over after a long game by converting his seventh break point.
Medvedev urged chair umpire John Blom to silence the crowd.
“Come up, man. It’s a Grand Slam final. “Please” is not enough,” he said. “They are idiots. With idiots, ‘please’ doesn’t work.
After Medvedev served a double fault to open the fifth set, Blom warned the crowd that anyone who yelled between the first and second serves could be ejected by security.
Medvedev managed to hold this game, but in the end he didn’t really have the stamina.
“I want to congratulate Rafa,” he said. “What he did today was incredible. You are an incredible champion.