Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open, historic 21st Grand Slam


Jono52795 | Wikimedia Commons

Jose Pacheco

No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No 6. Rafael Nadal entered the Australian Open as favorites to win the final and a chance of making history.

Nadal headed into the match chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic with 20 titles each. Both men failed at securing their 21st title, Federer falling short in 2019 at Wimbledon and Djokovic in the 2021 U.S. Open, losing to none other than Medvedev. He made quick work of Djokovic, winning in straight sets  to capture his first Grand Slam. This time Medvedev was aiming to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles, a major accomplishment in the Big Three era of tennis, and cement himself as a top player for years to come.

The match got off to an unfavorable start for Nadal with Medvedev winning the first set in convincing fashion. The second set was a crucial one for Nadal, with him taking the early lead. Yet Medvedev managed to rally late and win the set on a tiebreak after capitalizing on some mistakes made by his opponent.

It was set to be a gloomy day at the Rod Laver Arena for Nadal.  Medvedev was visibly gaining more and more confidence as the match progressed and Nadal struggled to keep up with the younger Medvedev. Eventually, he only needed two games to close the third set and be crowned champion. The record breaking 21st Grand Slam title looked very distant, like it would be over in a matter of minutes.

During the third set, tied at four games a piece, Nadal knew that if he was going to turn it around, he would have to make the best comeback in tennis history. With a mixture of luck, unrelenting crowd support and Nadal’s unwavering mentality, his wake-up call came. Mustering all the strength he had left, Nadal managed to secure the crucial third set.

Going into the fourth set, Nadal was noticeably worn out by all the energy used to win the previous set to stay in the fight, but so was Medvedev. Medvedev was comparatively weaker and made simple mistakes which Nadal capitalized on.

All of a sudden it was Nadal who looked 10 years younger, and he ended up taking the fourth set. The game was tied but neither of the players’ fates were sealed yet.

In a final set filled with swings, volleys, serves of emotions, of momentum, of hope that switched from game to game to each player, each with a chance to steal the trophy from each other, somehow Nadal managed to win a breakpoint and took the lead in game five of the final set, only for Medvedev to break him back the game after, but only to see Nadal break him for a second time. With only a championship point left in game six of the final set to win, Nadal managed to secure his 21st Grand Slam title with a drop shot.

Nadal had to dig deep to triumph over Medvedev in a final score of 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to take the 2022 Australian Open title. He made what many experts are considering the greatest comeback ever in tennis history. In five hours and 24 minutes, the second longest Grand Slam final ever, Nadal claimed his 21 major tournament title, one more than  rivals Federer and Djokovic.

To say that this win was unexpected would be an understatement, Medvedev was the clear favorite. Early in the match everyone saw Medvedev was on a different level, even Nadal wasn’t sure if he had what it took to secure a victory over Medvedev.

Entering the tournament, Nadal had undergone a 2021 layoff which saw him miss half of 2021, due to an ankle injury and subsequent surgery that he was recovering from. In December,  weeks away from the Australian Open he contracted COVID-19, putting in jeopardy not only his participation at the tournament but his career in tennis.  Being 35 and managing to win against an opponent like Medvedev is no easy feat, which makes this victory much more impressive.

The question now remains, what’s next? At the U.S Open, Djokovic was regarded as the one that would break the tie and establish himself as the most decorated tennis player in history, but with this performance from Nadal, everything changed. Nadal now heads to the French Open on May 22, a court where he has won 13 times and earned the nickname of “The King of Clay,” for perhaps his 22nd title.

For now, the future of the rest of the Big Three remains unknown. Djokovic’s participation in upcoming tournaments is in limbo due to vaccination requirements. We might not see Federer play at the same level as the upcoming tennis stars with a knee injury at age 40; he’s likely at the end of his career.

When asked about what a 21st title will mean for his legacy and if it will propel him to greatest of all time status, Nadal was quick to dismiss and avoid discussions about who among the “Big Three” stands as the greatest, a question that has surrounded the tennis world over the past decade.

One thing is for sure from over the past year and during this tournament: he knows his body is cracking. Playing at this level is not sustainable for much longer with the younger talents only getting better and better. He knows that his time in tennis is limited, for what his heart wishes to do, his body can’t for much longer . For now, whether brief or permanent, Nadal stands alone at the top of men’s tennis. As Nadal said, “I have achieved much more than I ever dreamed,” and for that he is grateful.

Nothing in tennis is forever but Nadal has pulled one of the most astonishing victories of his careers and the most impressive comeback in tennis history. The debate for who is the greatest of all time persists and will always be up for opinion For Nadal, he may not end up with the most titles when everything is said and done, given his age and body no longer being the same, but  Jan. 30 will be a date people will  remember the match where one man pulled away from the rest into greatness.