Life is grand for Rafael Nadal…
The 35-year-old Spanish professional tennis player, a renowned right-to-the-end competitor, fought back from two sets down defeat Daniil Medvedev to win the Australian Open and claim his record 21st Grand Slam title.
With his dramatic 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 comeback win that lasted 5 hours, 24 minutes, Nadal set the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles.
Nadal now has one more major title than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, his long-time rivals in the so-called Big Three.
He was the only one of the three who had a chance to claim the record solo in Australia.
Federer is still recovering from knee surgery, and Djokovic was deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament because he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19.
It’s all history now that Nadal has become just the fourth man to win all four of the sport’s major titles at least twice.
“I was repeating to myself during the whole match, ‘I lost a lot of times here having chances, sometimes I was a little bit unlucky,'” Nadal said. “I just wanted to keep believing until the end.”
“Tonight has been unforgettable. I feel very lucky.”
Nadal was broken when serving for the championship for the first time at 5-4 in the fifth set, but he made no mistake two games later, converting the first of his championship points.
Taking everything into account, “the scenario, the momentum,” he said, “without a doubt probably the biggest comeback of my tennis career.
He added, “The most unexpected. And most surprising, I think, for everyone.”
Federer and Djokovic were watching, from a distance, and both used social media messages to offer congratulations to Nadal for breaking their three-way tie atop the men’s Grand Slam standings.
Nadal and Medvedev packed a lot of drama into the final that started Sunday night, was delayed in the 84-minute second set when a human rights activist jumped onto the court and finished close to 1:15 a.m.
Nadal was serving for the second set but was broken in that game. Then Medvedev had his moments to break again in the third set but admitted he got tight.
“Should have done better. Should have hit a winner,” Medvedev said. “Maybe would have won the match.”
“Tactically nothing changed,” he added, “but Rafa stepped up.”
Indeed, he did. And at 1:30 a.m. he stepped up onto the podium to give his victory speech.
“Good evening. No, good morning!” 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, was holding up his smartphone to capture the scenes. A woman nearby held up a sign that stated: “Rafa is the GOAT.”
For now, in terms of men’s major titles at least, Nadal is the Greatest Of All Time.
Nadal praised Medvedev for the part he played in what eventually became the second-longest Australian Open final ever. Nadal’s loss to Djokovic a decade ago lasted 5:53.
Nadal’s 21st major title was even more remarkable considering he had only two matches under his belt in the second half of 2021 because he was sidelined with a chronic foot injury. He also overcame a bout of COVID-19.
“For me, it’s just amazing,” he said, adding that only six weeks ago, “I didn’t know if I’d be able to play on the tour again.”
Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and then lost four other finals here. His conversion rate in major finals is now 21 out of 29.
Medvedev, who was aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win his first two Grand Slam titles back-to-back, was ever-so-close to spoiling 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 that after saving match points en route to winning the 2019 Wimbledon final.
For Nadal, this was just the fourth time — and first since 2007 — he has rallied from two sets down to win a best-of-five-set match. It’s the first time it has happened at the Australian Open final since 1965.