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Brilliant Nadal wins record 21st Grand Slam title after epic recovery to beat Medvedev at Australian Open

The Spaniard came from two sets down to beat Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 and move ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the list of all-time Grand Slam winners

Rafael Nadal Antoine Couvercelle

Indefatigable, irrepressible, incredible. Rafael Nadal made history at the Australian Open on Sunday as he came from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev 3-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to win a record 21st Grand Slam title in one of the most dramatic finals in history.

The 35-year-old Spaniard looked dead and buried when he trailed by two sets to love and faced three break points at 3-2 down in the third. But somehow, he dug in, turned things around and held off the valiant Russian after five hours, 24 minutes of stunning, dramatic tennis.

“It’s just amazing. One month and a half ago, I didn’t even know if I would able to be here, back on the Tour,” Nadal said, thanking the crowd for their support. “This has been without doubt one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career.

“One month and a half ago, I thought maybe there is a chance that it was going to be my last Australian Open but now that’s given me plenty of energy to keep going. I’m going to keep trying my best to keep coming next year.”

It’s a second Australian Open title for Nadal, to follow his 2009 win and it moves him ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the all-time Grand Slam list. He’s the first man to win the Australian Open in the Open era from two sets down and he has won all four slams at least twice.

Two months ago, Nadal did not even know if he would be able to play in Melbourne as he struggled to overcome a foot injury and his preparations for the first slam of the year were hit when he had Covid-19 in December.

The match was full of drama throughout, with Nadal failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the final set, only to regroup, recover and serve it out when he had the chance two games later to record one of the most incredible victories in recent Grand Slam memory.

As his final volley went away for a winner, Nadal put his hands to his face, a broad smile spreading across his face and after shaking hands with a valiant, dejected Medvedev, he went across to his team in the stands, hugging his father Sebastian and taking in a standing ovation from the crowd..

Confident Medvedev dominates first set

Nadal began tentatively, pushing his backhand, which allowed US Open champion Medvedev to take control, hammering his two-handed backhand into the corners and drawing the errors from the 35-year-old.

Slicing the ball more often than usual, Nadal was broken for 3-2 and Medvedev repeated the feat two games later on his way to a one-set lead, playing outstanding tennis despite the fact that the crowd were pulling hard for Nadal.

Nadal has set point but can’t close it out

Medvedev had won all 37 of his Grand Slam matches on hard courts when winning the first set while in all of his Grand Slam finals on hard courts, Nadal had never come from behind to win.

The Spaniard dug deep to hold serve early in the second set as Medvedev pushed for the break but at 2-1, a couple of loose errors gave Nadal 15-30 on the Russian’s serve. The two men then played out a 40-shot rally which ended with a moment of brilliance from Nadal as he knifed a slice backhand on a short angle for the winner. Medvedev saved the first break point with an ace but he missed a backhand on the net as Nadal broke to lead 3-1.

The 35-year-old held to love to extend his lead to 4-1 but Medvedev was still calm and after an easy hold, he broke back for 4-3. Nadal wasn’t done either, though, and after forcing two break points in the next game, he played a brilliant drop shot to break again for 5-3.

The ninth game was a mini-classic in itself. Nadal began with a horror of a missed bounce smash and found himself 15-40 down. A serve and volley saved the first, another volley saved the second and after Medvedev had forced a third, security staff had to be quick to act when a man jumped on court from the stands.

When play resumed, Nadal saved the third break point with another drop shot only to miss an easy backhand pass to give Medvedev break point number four. A service winner swatted that one away and then Nadal earned a first set, only to net a backhand. Medvedev was not to be denied, though, and after forcing a fifth break point he finally got the break back when Nadal sent a forehand long.

Medvedev held easily and then pressured Nadal again but the Spaniard, getting the crowd even more behind him than they already were, held for 6-5 before Medvedev held to force a tiebreak. Nadal led 2-0 and 5-3 but could not close it out and Medvedev threaded a backhand pass up the line for a winner to clinch a two-sets-to-love lead.

Nadal snatches third set as Medvedev gets tight

Medvedev continued to pile the pressure on Nadal, who upped his forehand speed at the start of the third set, trying desperately to gain the ascendancy. He earned himself a break point but the Russian hit two aces in a row to hold serve for 1-0. Nadal was having to work incredibly hard to stay on serve, no more so than at 2-3, 0-40 when he dug his heels in again, saving all three to stay on serve.

At 3-3, Medvedev showed the first sign of tension, getting annoyed with the crowd shouting out between first and second serve. But Nadal could not take advantage. Two games later, though, a horror miss from Medvedev, when he missed a simple drop shot, gave Nadal two break points. Medvedev somehow saved the first when the Spaniard thought he’d put a volley away, but on the second, Nadal rifled a backhand pass for a winner to snatch the break and he held serve to take the match into a fourth.

Rafael Nadal AO F 2022
AI/Reuters/Panoramic

Medvedev vents, Nadal forces a decider

Medvedev’s frustrations were clear as he asked umpire John Blom to tell anyone who shouts out between first and second serve they were “idiots”.

But the Russian put his annoyance aside to hold for 1-0. One break point came and went as Nadal crunched a forehand winner and a second went begging as Medvedev netted a backhand and after 10 minutes, the Spaniard held serve after 10 minutes.

Nadal slammed a backhand pass cross-court to get to 0-30 and a wayward groundstroke from Medvedev made it 15-40. The Russian saved one break point with an ace but he then double-faulted to give Nadal the break and sarcastically clapped as the crowd went wild.

The momentum was with Nadal and even more so when Medvedev had the trainer out to rub some cream into his legs. But the Russian broke back immediately as Nadal misfired with his first serve. Again Nadal hit back, though, finally breaking serve for the second time on his seventh break point with a clever, rolled backhand pass.

Leading 4-3, Nadal found himself 15-40 down after three uncharacteristic errors. But again, he found a way through, saving both and then holding to move within a game of a decider. At 30-40 on the Medvedev serve he had a set point but the Russian saved it to hold and force Nadal to serve it out, which he did, to love.

Exhausted Nadal snatches deciding set for glory

Nadal had only come from two sets down to win a match three times in the past and the last time was 2007. Medvedev had the advantage of serving first in the decider but Nadal forced a break point in the opening game only to have it snuffed out by a forehand winner.

Medvedev had more treatment for his legs and at 2-2, Nadal forced another break point, only for the Russian to save it with a big serve. A backhand in the net gave Nadal a second chance and this time, he took it, ripping his forehand down the line to break for 3-2.

With the crowd going crazy, Nadal saved three break points in the next game, which lasted more than 13 minutes, to go up 4-2 but Medvedev then held to love to maintain the pressure. Nadal held serve to 30 to move to within a game of the title.

At 5-4, 30-0, Nadal was two points from victory but a double-fault at 30-15 let Medvedev back in and the Russian took his chance as Nadal netted a forehand to make it 5-5.

Incredibly, Nadal found something extra in the next game and though Medvedev saved two break points he could not save a third, sending a forehand to give Nadal a second chance to serve out the match. This time, he made no mistake, putting a backhand volley away on his first match point to clinch a remarkable victory.

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