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Australian Open – Nadal is first to 21 Grand Slam titles

This year’s Australian Open, the first grand slam of the season, has provided some exhilarating matches on court not least the men’s final which had spectators in a packed Rod Laver Arena, on the edge of their seats for around five-and-a-a-half-hours watching the epic encounter unfold.

It has been a very emotional night. Even now I am destroyed, honestly, physically. I can't think much. I can't remember a lot of moments of the match. Rafa Nadal

During that time, they watched Rafa Nadal recover from being dominated by Daniil Medvedev over the opening sets to defeat the Russian 2-6 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 to lift the Norman Brookes Trophy for the second time in his career, 13 years after the first in 2009 when he defeated Roger Federer.

Notwithstanding that, it is also his 21st grand slam title which now lifts him above both Novak Djokovic and Federer in the ‘most majors won’ table! They remain tied on 20 and following the French Open, could well find themselves trailing by two should Nadal extend his wins there to 14!

And this win never looked possible as Medvedev’s power, speed and serving proved too great for the Spanish icon who looked completely out of depth in the first set despite twice going a break up in the second.

Medvedev recovered well on both occasions, snuffing out a Nadal set point when he was serving for it at 5-4.


A fan jumps down onto the court at Rod Laver Arena and is apprehended by security guards

TPN/Getty Images

There was a small distraction caused by a spectator dropping onto the court during the 9th game in some form of demonstration but that was also dealt with swiftly by Security who ejected him out of the complex.

By this time the Spanish errors were mounting dramatically and his hopes of a second AO title were dimming fast especially as he had never come back from two-sets to love down to win a grand slam final, and only achieved that on two previous occasions when he was a much younger man and on Wimbledon grass in 2006 and 2007. On 12 other instances he was the loser.

But comeback he did, and the revival started midway through the third set when he looked down and out, facing triple break points when serving at 2-3.

He saved those and a couple of others to make a dent in the Medvedev confidence for, from that moment the Russian’s game started to go downhill while the Spaniard’s own confidence rose allowing him to claw his way back into the match.


Daniil Medvedev reels under the pressure

Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

It is well known that when under pressure, Medvedev starts to unravel mentally as well and those signs of stress were starting to show, manifesting themselves in his request to umpire John Blom, to quieten the crowd which were loudly showing their support for his opponent, and demanding that the Ball Kids at the end of his court share the balls evenly between them.

When Nadal broke him for 5-4 in the third set, Medvedev spent the change of ends complaining to Blom about the crowd, but the momentum had shifted.

By now most pundits expected Nadal’s 35-year-old body to start wilting but it was clear by the fourth set that Medvedev, 10-years his junior, was the one feeling the effects of the game, the heat and humidity as he struggled to keep pace with the Mallorcan who deployed a series of drop shots and forehands to pull him all around the court draining the Russian’s fitness levels.

Medvedev was now requiring treatment for cramp and was taking pickle juice to try and hold it back.

But when Nadal broke on his seventh chance in the fifth game of the fourth set it proved a decisive moment.

Nadal held firm to take the set and level the match and before they strode out to the decider, both players went off court for fresh clothes in a stretched five-minute comfort break.

On resumption both players seemed to have been reinvigorated by the break and fresh clothes but when Nadal broke to go 3-2 up the win looked like his to have.

To his credit, Medvedev didn’t roll over. He was as keen to add to his list of grand slam titles after winning last years US Open when he prevented Novak Djokovic from claiming a calendar Grand Slam and no doubt would like to upset Nadal’s run to his 21st!

He pressed Nadal on every one of his service games but as he had discovered, the former world No.1 was a thoroughbred champion, full of determination and what is often described as heart, so his efforts seemed in vain except for a troke of luck.


Rafael Nadal can't believe it

Andy Cheung/Getty Images

An unexpected double fault at 15-30 put up a break point for Medvedev and with Nadal on the verge of serving to defend it, he received a code violation for just going over the allowed 25-seconds. Whether that distracted him will never be known for he didn’t react, but he did drop serve with a netted backhand.

He immediately broke back for 6-5 and this time, held out to love to make history, falling to the ground in celebration and then pumping his arm as he walked round the court savouring the moment and the cacophony of sound as the auditorium rose to acclaim their hero.


A packed auditorium at the Rod Laver Arena during the Men's Singles Final

James D. Morgan/Getty Images

A few months ago, he was unsure about participating in Melbourne and if he did travel, expected this to be his last Australian Open. Now having won his second title there and become only the second player – behind Djokovic – to have won all four majors twice, he has pledged to come back next year.

Having endured a possible career threatening foot injury which curtailed his 2021 season and then required surgery for it, he had also battled Covid in the month prior to his departure, so he was surprised to be standing there alongside the champions trophy.

“Being honest, one month and a half ago, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to (be) back playing tennis again,” he said at the award ceremony.

“You really don’t know how much I fought to be here.

“Maybe one month and a half ago I would have said this would be my last Australian Open. But now that’s plenty of energy to keep going.”

He added that his recovery from injury and illness to winning the Australian Open for just the second time, made this “one of the most emotional months of my career”.

Nadal has never ben motivated by ‘success’ stats. He has always believed history will tell itself so to have won 21 is great but it’s just another grand slam.

“Of course, for me it’s amazing to achieve another Grand Slam at this moment of my career. Of course, I know it’s a special number, 21.

“I know the big significance of this title. I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career.

“But I don’t care much if I am the best in history, one of the best in history, or not the best in history. Honestly, I don’t care much.”

Meanwhile Djokovic, who was keen to win his 10th AO title and be the first of the ‘Big Three’ to reach 21, congratulated Nadal on his “amazing achievement” and “impressive fighting spirit”, while Federer offered his “heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles”.

The Swiss icon added: “A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches, amazing. Never underestimate a great champion.”

Nadal, who had to sit down on a chair during this year’s trophy presentation, added: “It is the most unexpected title, without a doubt. And most surprising, I think, for everyone.”

“It has been a very emotional night. Even now I am destroyed, honestly, physically. I can’t think much. I can’t remember a lot of moments of the match.”

Not surprising. The match lasted 5-hours and 24-miutes, with the local clock just showing 01.11am and was the second longest Grand Slam final in history, 30 minutes short of the 2012 final at Melbourne Park, when Nadal lost to Djokovic.


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