Nadal defeats Medvedev in Melbourne, wins record 21st grand slam title

Rafael Nadal competes at the 2011 Australian Open. Credit | Wikimedia

Rafael Nadal has done the impossible — coming back from 2 sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev and win the Australian Open in an epic championship match that spanned more than 5 hours.

Nadal, who was the 6th seed entering the tournament in Melbourne Park, came back from behind to defeat his Russian opponent 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-4 7-5 in a match that will go down in history as one of the greatest of his career in Rod Laver Arena. The match ended at 1:11 a.m. local time, after 5 hours and 24 minutes of play, when Medvedev failed to return a net volley on Nadal’s first of 3 match points.

For a moment, Nadal just stood there smiling wide-eyed in disbelief, before walking to the net to thank his 6 foot 6 inch opponent and then running over to hug his team. Indeed, he couldn’t have miraculously returned from a career-ending foot injury without them.

The Spaniard’s historic win puts his grand slam titles tally to 21, just one ahead of longtime rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who each have 20 grand slam titles respectively. This is the first time in his career that the 35 year old has more titles than the Swiss great.

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Last year’s winner and 9 time AO champion, Djokovic, 34, was unable to defend his title after he was deported by the Australian government the day before the tournament began, in what became a known as “the Djokovic saga.” In the wake of his absence, Nadal seized an opportunity to cinch his 21st grand slam title and pull ahead from the Big Three’s other 2, breaking the 3-way grand slam tie.

Read more about the Djokovic saga here and here.

Medvedev was hoping to capture his second consecutive grand slam, after defeating Djokovic in straight sets at the US Open last September and finally taking home his first grand slam title. But at 25 years old, there is still plenty of time for the “next-gen” tennis star to shine, as the clock winds down on the Big Three’s decades of domination, during which they have combined to win a total of 61 grand slams.

Nadal’s victory was made all the sweeter considering what it took for him to return to competition. Last August he announced he was ending his season early due to a potentially career-ending foot injury and took five months off to recover. For the first time it seemed he faced the reality of retirement.

The last time Nadal won a grand slam down under was way back in 2009 when he defeated Roger Federer in a 5 set slugfest.

Meanwhile, Federer, 40, has been out of competition since undergoing another knee surgery for a torn meniscus in August last year. He hopes to return sometimes mid-year — and perhaps set the record straight for the greatest of all time, one last time, in time for the start of the grass season and Wimbledon at the end of June. Federer has won the tournament 8 times.

But the next grand slam on the calendar — the French Open — is Nadal’s forte. The clay maestro has won the tournament a record 13 times, and if healthy, he will be the man to beat when competition begins on May 22.


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