Australian Open: Nadal beats Medvedev in epic final

The Spaniard surpassed the former men’s record of 20 he had with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the latter of whom was denied entry into the country after having his visa revoked.

There had been much doubt as to whether Nadal would be fit enough to play at the Australian Open at all after missing the second half of 2021 with a foot injury.

After beating Matteo Berrettini in the Australian Open semi-final, Nadal said he was just happy to be back on the pitch after being plagued by injuries.

As he sank to the floor, exhausted but victorious after five and a half exciting hours, Nadal proved that he was not only fit enough to still compete on the grand slam, but realistically still able to win more.

“It has been one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career and sharing the court with you [Medvedev] was an honor, “Nadal said in his interview with the court.” I do not even know what to say, boys, for me it’s just amazing.

Rafael Nadal drops to his knees after winning the Australian Open.

“I can not thank enough all the guys who are there [in my box]the whole team, the family … how hard the last year and a half has been, and in the low moments, you have been there to support me, and without you, none of this would be possible.

“To be honest, a month and a half ago I did not know if I would be back on the tour and play tennis again, and today I am here in front of you with the trophy again,” he said after Sunday’s final. “You do not know how much I fought to be here. Thank you so much for the love and support.

“Undoubtedly [it was] one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career, and having the huge support I have received over the three weeks will remain in my heart for the rest of my life, so many, many thanks.

“A month and a half ago I would have said it would be my last Australian Open, but now I have a lot of energy to continue. I can not explain the feelings I have now, but I will do my best to come back next year. “

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Rafael Nadal celebrates victory in the men's singles final of the Australian Open.

Medvedev sails early

Audiences were audibly supporters of Nadal as the two players stepped out onto the pitch, with a tinge of buh echoing around the Rod Laver arena when Medvedev was introduced.

In Nadal’s second service match, the pair exchanged a grueling 26-shot rally, which ended with Medvedev’s precise backhand down the line to open up a 0-30 advantage.

The Spaniard then closed the door with two quite remarkable points; the first a ridiculous passing shot after Medvedev had crushed a short forehand straight towards him, the second a volley winner after being forced to go full stretch to reach a huge forehand.

Nadal eventually held serve to take an early 2-1 lead, but he was forced to work brutally hard for every single point and was already forced to produce some of his best tennis.

While Medvedev crossed through his own service games for comparison, putting the pressure immediately back on Nadal, you had to wonder if this level of tennis was tenable in five sets for the 35-year-old.

The pair had barely played for 20 minutes and already Nadal was drenched in sweat, his shirt clinging to his torso and the pearls falling from his head. At the other end of the field, Medvedev looked as if he had barely sweated.

In fact, Nadal’s serve was broken for love in his very next service match as Medvedev took a 3-2 lead. Things looked ominous.

Two more easy teams followed, and so did another easy break of Nadal’s serve as Medvedev closed out the first set without losing another game.

Daniil Medvedev comfortably took the first set against Nadal.

Nadal fights back

Nadal desperately needed to try something different in the second set; Medvedev hit the ball harder and more cleanly and felt like the favorite to win every point at the start of each rally.

The Spaniard opened the second set with a relatively comfortable hold of the serve – perhaps his only in the fight so far – and celebrated it with a shout of “si” and a fist pump against his box as he tried to fire himself up.

It clearly worked when Nadal got his first break in the match in Medevedev’s next service match – and he was really made to deserve it.

Nadal finished off a giant 40-shot rally with a rather ridiculously cut backhand that Medvedev could not come close to opening a 15-40 lead, and eventually broke the serve with his second breakpoint, leading 3-1 .

But after a light hold of serve, Medvedev held his own serve before breaking Nadal back – to the great despair of the noisy crowd at Rod Laver.

However, this match was becoming unpredictable and Nadal broke Medvedev’s serve again to take a 5-3 lead and give himself the chance to serve for the second set.

To complicate matters, an incident in the stands forced a number of security guards to enter the pitch and stand around the two players when a man apparently tried to jump onto the pitch.

Rafael Nadal gathered in the second set.

Consistent with the rest of the match, it was a brutal match that lasted more than 12 minutes and it was Medvedev who came out on top and eventually broke back with his fifth breakpoint to 4-5 and denied Nadal the set.

The pair swapped teams with serve until the set reached a tie break. Nadal had done well to turn this match into a competition, but winning this set felt crucial to ensuring that the final would go far.

The Spaniard has made some Herculean efforts throughout his career, but coming from two sets down here was definitely beyond him. Was not it?

As the clock ticked over the duration of the two hours, both players continued to produce excellent tennis, but it was again Medvedev who got over Nadal.

A crucial point in the tie breaker – with Nadal leading 5-4 – went to the Russian as Nadal’s volley fell just past. The Hawkeye system confirmed the line judge’s call, but the decision was still heralded by the audience.

After Medvedev hit the backhand winner, who provided him with a tie break and emptied the crowd, he turned to look at the stands and raised his arms over his head while a mixture of cheers and scorn rained down.

Daniil Medvedev was cheered and mocked after winning the second set.

Down, but never out

Despite the bitter disappointment, Nadal started the second set strong and had a wonderful chance to give himself two early breakpoints, but a less-than-perfect run-in shot allowed Medvedev to hit a giant backhand winner who flashed past his opponent in the net.

Nadal looked up at his box with a worried look on his face as he knew how expensive these wasted opportunities would be.

The set – and the match – soon seemed to be over with Nadal 0-40 down while serving to 2-3.

But the Mallorcan has created a reputation as one of the greatest warriors on the field, and even now in the twilight of his career, there is no sign that that battle is disappearing.

Nadal fought back to deuce before eventually winning the match to equalize the third set.

The momentum in this final fluctuated dramatically as Medvedev served at 4-4 as the nerves seemed to gain the upper hand of the Russian as he approached the finish line.

A bizarre attempt at a dropshot resulted in the ball hitting the net and Medvedev clapping sarcastically to the audience, who he felt had made noise before hitting the shot, leading to a loud chorus of buh.

Rafael Nadal captures the audience after hitting a winner.

Nadal cracked his opponent with an incredible backhand shot down the line, and the Rod Laver arena broke out – it was at a distance the loudest sound of the night.

Unlike in the second set, Nadal held serve with ease thanks to four winners in a row to make it 2-1, and Medvedev seemed to be rattling.

During the shift, he told the referee that some fans were “idiots with empty brains” after a supporter shouted just before Nadal was to serve.

The comeback is underway

The momentum continued to swing further in Nadal’s favor at the start of the fourth set as the Spaniard somehow managed to save two breakpoints to 1-1.

Medvedev had certainly allowed the fans to get into his head when a double fault by giving Nadal a break in the serve ended up with him sarcastically clapping and putting his thumb up to the audience.

The Russian calmed down during the shift of end and responded with an immediate pause back, leading to the area breaking out into a chorus of “let’s go, Rafa, let’s go.”

However, he just could not stop a resurrected Nadal.

Medvedev managed to take his next service game to twos after being 0-40 down, but Nadal was relentless in his pursuit of another break in the serve and finally got it at seventh when he asked to finish another marathon game.

Nadal now played some of the best tennis of his life – and it should be so good to beat his opponent – and held his next service match to take a 4-2 lead in the fourth.

Medvedev had also called the coach to massage his right thigh, and at times he seemed a little uncomfortable moving his leg.

Daniil Medvedev seemed to have a hard time on the waterlogged pitch - his trademark technique was nowhere in sight today.

Nadal’s next service game was the set’s biggest as he rattled four straight points from 15-40 down to 5-3.

Medvedev managed to hold the next match and fend off a set point, but it just delayed the inevitable as Nadal shut it out with a flawless service play. This match was fast becoming one of the greatest grand slam finals of all time.

Rafa returns

Medvedev had to dig deep again in the beginning of the fifth set and saved another early breakpoint. It was the 12th breakpoint he had saved in the match, a new record for the Russian.

Now there was apparently no stopping Nadal as he again broke his opponent’s serve to take a 3-2 lead – perhaps for the first time he would allow himself to start thinking about number 21.

Nadal tentatively ensured that Medvedev did not come back in the set, saving several breakpoints in a game that went to doubles six times to 4-2.

The match clock now showed that these two showstoppers had been fighting for it for five hours, but neither of the players seemed to drop their level for the time being.

Nadal soon served at 5-4 to win the championship and had a 30-0 lead, apparently on the verge of making history. However, Medvedev dug even deeper to win four straight points and break back at the most vital times.

Rafael Nadal lifts a historic 21st grand slam trophy.

Nadal, however, just would not be denied his record title. He broke back right away, played perhaps his best tennis in the final and then got his second chance to earn for the championship.

It was a chance he would not waste again while practicing skillfully to imprint his name in the history books.

Given where he was just six months ago, and at times considering retirement, Nadal’s victory here in Melbourne will go down as one of tennis’ biggest victories.

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