On A Mission, Nadal Wins Record 21st Grand Slam Title At Australian Open

Rafael Nadal (photo: Fiona Hamilton / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 30, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal was simply a man on a mission, looking to make tennis history on Rod Laver Arena Sunday evening as he met Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open men’s singles final.

Little did the aging champion realize what was in store for him and the younger Medvedev as they met in the title match of the year’s first major in what would become his greatest comeback ever. After all, just a few weeks ago, Nadal was recovering from not only a nagging foot injury that derailed much of his 2021 season but also from contracting COVID-19 after playing in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi. So, even playing for a chance at winning a 21st Grand Slam crown was unexpected.

However, over the next five hours and 24 minutes, Nadal and Medvedev fought like a couple of frenzied heavyweight boxers, trading flurries of punches – some of them stinging more than others. Certainly, as tennis goes, their match jogged fond memories of Borg-McEnroe at Wimbledon in the early 1980s or even shades of Nadal’s past title triumph in Melbourne back in 2009. For the past 20 years, Nadal has always been a fighter. Round by round, during this Melbourne summer, Nadal has fought through tough times. Each time, he’s come away the winner.

When it was all over, after Sunday night transformed into early Monday morning in front of a spirited and at times raucous crowd, the sixth-seeded Nadal had come back against No. 2 seed Medvedev, from down two-sets-to-love, to win the grueling final 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. For Nadal, a man on a mission, he became the first to secure a men’s record 21st major singles title, breaking the tie he shared with his biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who are now tied for second with 20.

After securing championship point from Medvedev, who battled beautifully, Nadal didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So, he did a little bit of both. He emoted sheer delight and plenty of happiness – the laugh lines lit up his face – and there was likely a sense of relief, too.

Together, the two worthy finalists played a total of 371 points, filled full of long rallies and shifts in momentum, with Medvedev winning 189 of them and Nadal 182. The Spaniard hit 69 winners – many of them timely and memorable – and made 69 unforced errors. He won 67 percent (78 of 117) of his first-serve points and converted seven of 22 break points. Medvedev used his power and might to fire off 23 aces and to smack 76 winners, many with his whip-like forehand, but he also committed 52 unforced errors. He won 71 percent (89 of 126) of his first-serve points and broke Nadal six times in 22 chances.

Most important, Nadal won the last point of the 371 points that were played. It will be remembered as one of the great Grand Slam finals of all time.

During the trophy ceremony, Nadal called his Australian Open title victory “one of the most emotional matches of my career.” He added: “To share the court with Daniil was just an honor.”

While Federer and Djokovic both played in a final for a chance get the milestone 21 and came up short – Federer at Wimbledon in 2019 and Djokovic at the 2021 US Open – Nadal didn’t. He triumphed in his first bid to win his 21st Grand Slam title. Always a chaser, he now stands alone.

“For me, it’s just amazing,” the World No. 5 Nadal said. “Being honest, one month and a half ago, I did not know if I will be able to be back on the tour playing tennis again, and today I am here in front of all of you having this trophy with me. You really don’t know how much I fought to be here.”

Looking back, Medvedev came into the final looking to become the first man in the Open Era to win a second major at the next Grand Slam event after his first. After all, he was the one who stymied the World No. 1 Djokovic in his bid for 21 last September at Flushing Meadows. For the first two sets, everything seemed to favor the 25-year-old Russian until he became unraveled and the 35-year old Nadal caught his second wind.

After easily wining the opening set 6-2, thanks to a couple of service breaks, Medvedev gained a two-set lead after he saved a set point in the ninth game and won the second-set tie break over Nadal with a backhand passing shot winner. He came back from down a break twice, and 3-5 in the tiebreak to win 7-6 (5). Nadal led the second set 4-1 and then, again, at 5-3 but couldn’t close out the 84-minute set.

Three times prior, Nadal had come back from two-sets-to-love down to win. The last time came at Wimbledon in 2007 against another Russian, when he defeated Mikhail Youzhny, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. As he looked to accomplish the feat for a fourth time – and as the match developed – Nadal kept getting stronger and looked more determined. His resolve was remarkable. He gave absolutely everything he had in his bid to garner a winning performance. His eyes were focused on the prize.

Across the net, a set from winning back-to-back majors, the World No. 2 Medvedev continued to put a lot of pressure on Nadal – but the Spaniard proved resilient. Nadal rallied to win the 64-minute third set 6-4 and put himself in the position to win the fourth. Nadal saved two break points and held his serve with a rare service ace. Then, he held at love to put away the the 62-minute fourth set 6-4 as the match had eclipsed the four-hour mark.

As the title match headed to an astonishing fifth set and with early Monday morning on the horizon, one could easily reflect in the past. It was five years ago, at age 35, that Federer earned a redemptive five-set win on the same court in Melbourne. Could Nadal do the same? The answer, it turned out, was yes.

With Nadal’s pursuit for No. 21 on the line in the final set and Medvedev in the chase to write some history for himself, regardless of the outcome, it would go down as one of the greatest comebacks by one of sports’ greatest fighters.

At 2-all in the fifth, Nadal broke with a wickedly-beautiful and curved down-the-line winner – his 60th winner of the match. For the first time, he found himself ahead in the match after four hours and 42 minutes. Suddenly, things got very quiet as Nadal lined up to serve and consolidate the break. Despite their 10-year difference in age, Nadal seemed to have the better stamina at the end.

Nadal got a key hold at 4-2 in a game that lasted more than 13 minutes with an overhead winner after fending off break points that pushed him closer to the title. Medvedev responded with a one-minute hold. Then, as Nadal came out to serve at 4-3, the game clock struck five hours – five hours! For the third time, since winning the Australian Open in 2009, Nadal found himself up a break in the fifth set of the final.

However, from two points away, Nadal couldn’t serve out history – not just yet. He was broken by Medvedev to go 5-all in the fifth. But Nadal wasn’t finished. Soon, he broke back on his third break-point of the game after Medvedev hit a long forehand. The crowd stood and applauded Nadal as he walked back to his bench to sit down, towel off and contemplate the moment.

Soon, with a second chance to serve out the match and earn his place in history, at 5:24 on the match clock and at 1:12 a.m. Melbourne time, with one last push, Nadal served his third ace to gain championship point at 40-0, then won the final point of the fortnight after Medvedev lunged to hit a backhand return off a Nadal half volley. The sixth shot of the last rally dribbled into the net ending the 72-minute final set. At last, the match was over.

A miracle in Melbourne had happened and the morning was still young as the crowd stood up and applauded both competitors. After losing his last four Australian Open finals, Nadal had at last won his second one in Melbourne and first in 13 years.

Finally, Nadal stood alone, separated from Federer and Djokovic. After having not won a Grand Slam since capturing the 2020 French Open, then being shutout last year, Nadal had won his 21st career major title and it was his 90th ATP crown overall. The victory improved his Australian Open win-loss record to 76-15 and his Grand Slam record now stands at 298-41. Nadal became the second player in the Open Era after Djokovic to win all four of the major tournaments at least twice.

Among the many colorful images of Nadal captured on TV within about a minute’s time after he won: he put his hands up to cover his face, then broke out a big grin and shook his head as he looked in glee toward his box. Next, after Nadal congratulated Medvedev at the net, shook hands with chair umpire John Blom and deposited his racquet at his bench, he walked back onto the court. There, Nadal raised his arms in celebration, tapped his heart with his right hand, and even got down on his knees to say a quick prayer of thanks. The moment was Nadal’s to savor.

About 90 minutes after the end of the remarkable final, Nadal finally strode into his final Melbourne press conference. He looked happy and at ease – perhaps a bit tired but no less relieved – now that the race to reach 21 major titles first was his to enjoy. It was obvious that he remains passionate about the sport of tennis.

“I feel confident I’m going to have the chance to keep going, keep fighting and keep enjoying the sport that makes me happy,” Nadal said. “I just feel confident I’m going to have my chance to keep playing tennis a while [longer].”

Krejcikova and Siniakova win first Australian Open women’s doubles title

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won their first Australian Open women’s doubles title and fourth as a team Sunday afternoon on Rod Laver Arena.

The No. 1 seeds from the Czech Republic came from behind to beat the previously undefeated and unseeded duo Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan and Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 42 minutes.

Last year, Krejcikova and Siniakova lost the Australian Open final to Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka. This time, the Czech duo didn’t want the same fate to happen again. They came up against formidable opponents in Danilina and Haddad Maia, who teamed for the first time earlier this month and won their first tournament at Sydney. The loss dropped the pair to 9-1.

“Last year, we finished in the finals, so just to get again all the way to the finals and finally making it, it’s perfect,” Krejcikova said during the team’s press conference. “It’s like a huge, I would say, relief. We’re just extremely happy that it’s finally our trophy.”

Siniakova added: “It’s amazing. After playing last year in the final, we are so happy that we have the title. It was a really big fight, and we needed to push hard.

“We were fighting hard to get the Australian one. So, it’s just really exciting and super happy, because the focus on the Grand Slam … you want to get these titles – the big ones – so, I’m just extremely happy that we got it.”

Winning the Australian Open crown was the third surface Krejcikova and Siniakova have prevailed on. They’ve won two French Open titles (2018 and 2021) on clay, and in 2018 they won on grass at Wimbledon. Currently, Siniakova is ranked No. 1 in the world and Krejcikova is No. 2. They are 6-0 as a team to start 2022.

Last year, Krejcikova and Siniakova also won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

By the numbers

• Sunday’s Day 14 attendance at Melbourne Park reached 19,053. The total Australian Open 2022 attendance was 346,468.

• At age 35, Rafael Nadal became the third-oldest man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title after Ken Rosewall and Roger Federer.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova are now 4-1 in women’s Grand Slam finals. Sunday’s Australian Open title was Siniakova’s 16thcareer WTA doubles title and it was the 12th for Krejcikova.

Beatriz Haddad Maia was just the third Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam doubles final. Maria Bueno won 19 Grand Slam titles from 1959-68 (seven singles, 11 women’s doubles and one mixed doubles), and Claudia Monteiro was a mixed doubles finalist at Roland Garros in 1982.

“Quotable …”

“Tough to talk after playing [for] five hours … and losing, but I want to congratulate Rafa because what he did today, I was amazed. After the match I asked him, ‘Are you tired? because it was insane. You raised your level after the first two sets for your 21st Grand Slam title. You are an amazing champion, it was unbelievable.”

Daniil Medvedev of Russia, following his five-set loss to Rafael Nadal. Medvedev was competing in his second straight major title final.