Rafael Nadal produces epic comeback to defeat Daniil Medvedev and win record-breaking Australian Open title

Nadal made history by defeating Medvedev 2-6, 6-7, 6-4 6-4 7-5 in one of the greatest grand slam finals of all time

Jamie Braidwood
Sunday 30 January 2022 21:07 GMT
Rafael Nadal celebrates Australian Open victory after sensational comeback

Rafael Nadal produced a stunning comeback from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev and win a record-breaking 21st grand slam title in an epic Australian Open final.

The Spaniard, just months after almost retiring from the sport due to a foot injury, moves clear of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer after winning his second Australian Open title in a thrilling and physically brutal battle over more than five hours in Melbourne.

“Being honest, one month and a half ago, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to back playing tennis again,” an exhausted Nadal said after prevailing in the second longest grand slam final of all time. “You really don’t know how much I fought to be here.

“I thought this might be my last Australian Open but this has given me enough energy to maybe keep going. I will keep trying my very best to come again next year. Thank you.”

Medvedev, the US Open champion and tournament favourite, was aiming to become the first player in the Open era to win a second grand slam title immediately after winning his first and moved two sets up after winning in a tiebreak at the end of a marathon 84-minute second set, only for Nadal to stage a remarkable fightback.

A forehand winner earned Nadal the crucial break of serve in the decider, before he held off three break points from Medvedev in a 13-minute service game as he tried to close out the match. Nadal was two points away from victory as he served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth, only for Medvedev to produce a fightback of his own and claim the break. But Nadal struck back with a second break, before serving for perhaps the greatest win of his legendary career.

Rafael Nadal was overwhelmed after winning a 21st grand slam title (AFP via Getty Images)

Medvedev started the match with the authority of the tournament favourite, a status the US Open champion arguably held even before the saga surrounding Novak Djokovic, which had threatened to cast a shadow over the men’s draw but has now been placed firmly in the past following an outstanding two weeks of competition.

The Russian raced into a first-set lead as he dropped deep behind the baseline but still seemed to loom over Nadal as he peppered the Spaniard’s serve. Nadal found himself 0-30 down on three consecutive service games as Medvedev glided around the court and posed the sternest of questions.

He broke Nadal twice to wrap up an opening set that was as comfortable as the 6-2 scoreline suggested. The Spaniard couldn’t get close to Medvedev’s serve as the holds were reeled off at a fast rate.

Nadal summoned every ounce of his fighting spirit to make a match of it. The spark came as Nadal opened up the court with a series of devilishly angled winners. A 40-shot rally was finished off as Nadal finally found some answers and cracks in the Medvedev wall. Two breaks followed but Medvedev hung on, saving set point as Nadal served to level the scores at 5-3 in a wild ninth game that was also interrupted by a protester attempting to run onto the court.

When Medvedev edged in front during the tiebreak it was the first time in the set he had been ahead. If anything could have broken Nadal’s resilience, it would have been that sinking feeling as he walked back his chair as the realisation of being two sets down hit home.

Nadal was looking tired, forehands and backhands that before had been whipped into the corners now drooped into the net. Medvedev rolled through his service games but at some point his level dropped.

The 25-year-old was beginning to get agitated, primarily at the crowd’s reaction to first-serve faults, but his complaints also extended to the positioning of the ball kids behind the baseline. Whatever it was, it drained Medvedev, as the mental strain of not only facing Nadal but the entire Rod Laver Arena began to take its toll.

Daniil Medvedev called a trainer during the match (AFP via Getty Images)

At 4-4 and 15-30 down on his serve, Medvedev popped a straightforward volley into the net before turning to sarcastically applaud the crowd. Nadal flashed a backhand winner down the line to seal the break before the hold of serve followed to send the stadium into a frenzy. The comeback was on and the momentum had turned.

It grated Medvedev – who turned to applaud the crowd again after serving a double fault to hand Nadal the early break in the fourth before calling the trainer for apparent cramp as the physical cost of the contest began to sink in.

Medvedev looked to wrestle back his authority after cancelling out Nadal’s early break in the fourth, before the pendulum took another wild turn with Nadal outlasting Medvedev in a nine-minute game to break straight back, finished off with a backhand pass.

Medvedev continued to rage against the crowd, who erupted on every Nadal point when jeering his own errors. “Can you take control, please? They are idiots,” Medvedev vented at the umpire, as inaccuracy and questionable shot selection creeped into his game.

There had already been enough drama in the first four sets to fill a calendar of grand slam finals, but as Nadal forced the match into a decider there was more to come. A flashed forehand from Nadal saw him edge in front for the first time in the match and three holds of serve away from the title.

Medvedev did not give up and seemed to rediscover his energy to set up break points, before Nadal threw in a nervy double fault as he served for the championship and was two points away from the title.

But, in the final swing of an extraordinary battle, Nadal broke Medvedev again before holding his nerve to seal a stunning victory and unexpected grand slam triumph.

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