Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates during the semifinals of the 2019 Australian Open
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Rafael Nadal was first to finish in 21st place, breaking the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles and going the hard way, coming back in straight sets and beating Daniil Medvedev in a nearly 5 1/2 hour final defeated at the Australian Open.
Nadal was heartbroken when he served for the championship in the fifth set, 5-4, but two games later he made no mistake, serving an ace to earn three championship points and converting it on the first try.
The 35-year-old Spaniard now has one more Major title than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, his long-time rivals in the so-called Big Three.
With the 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win that started Sunday night, he was delayed in the 84-minute second set when a protester jumped onto the court, 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 checked his watch and told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena as he finally got up at 1:30am for his acceptance speech
In the background, Rod Laver, the aging Australian tennis star, was in the stands holding up his smartphone to capture the scenes. A woman nearby held up a sign that read “Rafa is the GOAT.”
Right now, Nadal is the all-time greatest, at least in terms of men’s major titles.
Nadal said it was “one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career” and he praised Medvedev for his role in the 5 hour 24 minute final. It was the second-longest Australian Open final ever, after Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2012 decider, which lasted 5:53.
His win was even more remarkable considering Nadal flew to Australia in the second half of 2021 with just two games under his belt, sidelined with a chronic foot injury that can be treated but not cured. He also overcame a bout of Covid-19.
“For me it’s just incredible. To be honest, a month and a half ago I didn’t know if I could play on the tour again,” said Nadal. “Without a doubt, it was probably 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 maiden Australian Open title in 2009 and lost four more finals at Melbourne Park before dramatically defeating US Open champion Medvedev. His conversion rate in major finals is now 21 out of 29. Federer and Djokovic each have 20 majors from 31 finals appearances.
Medvedev, who was aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the next Major, came so close to spoiling another 21st celebration.
Djokovic was chasing the same record and one calendar year Grand Slam at the US Open last year when Medvedev defeated him in straight sets in the final.
Federer also had his chance at 21, but Djokovic stopped that when he saved match points before winning the 2019 Wimbledon final.
Medvedev now joins Andy Murray among those who lost the final at the next major tournament after breaking through at the highest level.
It was only the fourth time Nadal had recovered from two sets down to win a best-of-five-set match and the first since a fourth-round win over Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.
He is the first Australian Open champion to come back to win after losing the opening two sets of the final since Roy Emerson in 1965.