Rafael Nadal made history with his 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 turnaround victory over Russian world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, becoming the first male player ever to win 21 Grand Slam titles.
The five-set blockbuster match on Sunday night lived up to all the expectations surrounding a Grand Slam final. It lasted a staggering five hours and 24 minutes; more than 30 minutes longer than the tournament’s second-longest match this year.
Much was on the line for both players going into the symbolic clash between the new generation of rising stars and the old generation of weathered tennis veterans.
Midway through the first set, the 25-year-old Russian made the first break of the game, consolidating a 4-2 lead with the help of an untroubled service game.
Two double faults from the Spanish 35-year-old allowed Medvedev to double his advantage with a love-game break and finish out the set comfortably. In the first set, the shaky Spanish No. 6 seed committed some 16 unforced errors to his opponent’s five.
In set two, Medvedev managed to hold on with a series of break backs and a narrow hold of service. The Russian closed out the grueling 84-minute-long set in a comeback tiebreaker.
Refusing to throw in the towel at two sets down, Nadal continued to push against an increasingly frustrated Medvedev. He closed out the third set with a ninth-game break followed by a perfect game of service.
As the game went into hour four in the fourth set, Nadal’s experience began to triumph over Medvedev’s early-match energy. He made an early game-three break against the faltering Russian, and his closing service game was met with the roar of the overwhelming pro-Nadal crowd.
With things all tied up it was winner-takes-all in set five.
The exhausted contenders traded service for the first four games, but Nadal found a crack in game five and made a break. But just as the Spaniard was about to close out the championship, Medvedev made a last-minute break back, bringing the score to 5-5 in the final set.
In an epic finish, Nadal broke back against the Russian before serving through to 40-0. And with three championship points up his sleeve, one final backhand winner saw Nadal take his 21st title and his rightful place in the annals of tennis history.
Making his victory speech in the early hours of the morning, Nadal thanked his team, the audience, and extended admiration to the Russian runner-up.
“It has been one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career and to share the court with you is just an honor,” said Nadal.
“I really can’t explain the feelings that I have right now, but I am going to keep trying my best to keep coming next year,” Nadal said, casting hope for an appearance in next year’s Australian Open.
Medvedev, winning the 2021 US Open last September, fell short of becoming the first man in the Open Era to win his second Grand Slam title in the tournament following his first.