Rafael Nadal from Spain celebrates during the semifinals of the Australian Open 2019
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Rafael Nadal first came in at 21, breaking the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles and doing it the hard way by coming back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in an almost 5 1/2 hour Australian Open- finale.
Nadal was broken when he served for the championship for the first time at 5-4 in the fifth set, but he made no mistake two games later by serving an ace to earn three championship points and converted it in the first attempt.
The 35-year-old Spaniard now has a bigger title more than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, his longtime rivals in the so-called big three.
With the victory 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 starting Sunday night, it was delayed in the 84-minute second set when a protester jumped onto the field and then finished early Monday morning, Nadal also became just the fourth man in history to win all four of the sport’s major titles at least twice.
“Good evening. No, good morning!” Nadal, looking at his watch, told the audience at Rod Laver Arena when he finally got up for his thank you speech at 6 p.m. 01.30
In the background, Rod Laver, the aging Australian tennis giant, stood in the stands, holding up his smartphone to capture the scenes. A woman nearby held up a sign that read, “Rafa is the GOAT.”
For now, at least in terms of men’s big titles, Nadal is the greatest ever.
Nadal said it had been “one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career”, and he praised Medvedev for the role he played in the 5-hour and 24-minute finals. It was the second-longest Australian Open final ever after Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2012 decision, which lasted 5:53.
His victory was even more remarkable considering that Nadal flew to Australia with just two games under his belt in the second half of 2021 because he was put on the sidelines with a chronic foot injury that can be treated but not cured. He also overcame a round of Covid-19.
“For me, it’s just amazing. To be honest, a month and a half ago, I did not know if I would be able to play on the tour again,” Nadal said. “It has without a doubt been one of the most emotional months of my tennis career.
“The tremendous support I have received over the past three weeks will remain in my heart for the rest of my life.”
Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and lost four other finals at Melbourne Park before his dramatic victory over US Open champion Medvedev. His conversion rate in the grand finals is now 21 out of 29. Federer and Djokovic each have 20 majors from 31 finals matches.
Medvedev, who aimed to be the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the very next major, was always close to spoiling yet another 21st celebration.
Djokovic chased 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 that stopped Djokovic when he saved match points before winning the Wimbledon final in 2019.
Medvedev now joins Andy Murray among those who have lost the final at the next major tournament after their career breakthrough at the highest level.
It was just the fourth time Nadal has gathered from two sets down to win a best of five-set match, and the first since a victory in the fourth round in 2007 at Wimbledon over Mikhail Youzhny.
He is the first Australian Open champion to return to win after dropping the first two sets of the final since Roy Emerson in 1965.