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Nadal claims record 21st grand slam title after stunning comeback win

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Hailed by Federer, Djokovic

Rafael Nadal achieved the most astonishing feat of his glittering career by fighting back from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev and win the 2022 Australian Open.

The feat helped him to win a record 21st grand slam title.

Nadal’s 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory moves him clear of his great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as the most successful male player in grand slam history.

When the match, which lasted five hours and 24 minutes, finally finished at 1:11 a.m local time in Melbourne, Nadal dropped his racket to the court in disbelief.

He then pumped his fists in delight and celebrated with his support team.

The victory also makes him only the second man in the Open era after Djokovic to win each of the four titles at least twice.

Nadal was adding a second Australia Open crown to the one he claimed in 2009.

But the numbers only tell a fraction of the story.

The Spaniard feared he may have to retire only a couple of months ago because of a chronic foot problem and arrived in Australia unsure of what he could achieve.

Reaching the final had already exceeded all expectations and it appeared he would fall just short again in Melbourne.

That was when Medvedev moved two sets ahead.

The Russian was looking to follow up his maiden US Open title by becoming the first man in the Open era to win the next major as well.

Nadal had faded physically in the third set of his matches against both Denis Shapovalov and Matteo Berrettini.

But, at 35 and playing in just his 10th match since early August, he outlasted an opponent nearly a decade his junior.

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Remarkably, it is also the first time Nadal has recovered from two sets down to win a match since beating Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.

He is the first to do so in an Australian Open final since Roy Emerson in 1965.

The final, meanwhile, was the second longest in the tournament’s history, behind only the epic tussle between Djokovic and Nadal in 2012.

The contest was briefly interrupted by a protestor who jumped out of the crowd holding a banner highlighting refugee detention.

This was a campaign that received a global spotlight when Djokovic was detained and then deported ahead of the tournament.

Security guards quickly raced on to haul the person away.

That seemed to be a crucial period of the match, with Nadal holding set-point in the second set having twice been a break up.

But Medvedev, who won seven more points in the match, fought back and clinched the tie-break.

The 26-year-old, who had also lost in the US Open final in 2019 to Nadal and here against Djokovic last year, had been exceptional for two sets.

Had he taken any of three break-points at 3-2 in the third set, things may well have panned out very differently.

Muddled shot selection contributed to a break for Nadal in the ninth game of the third set, and his desperate use of drop shots betrayed the fatigue he was feeling.

Nadal got the better of three successive breaks early in the fourth set and he looked on his way to the title when he moved 3-2 ahead in the decider.

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At 5-4 30-0, he was two points away, but a double-fault could have proved costly as a netted backhand from Nadal saw Medvedev break back.

The Russian, though, could not hold his own serve, giving Nadal a second chance to serve for it, and this time he did not falter.

After receiving the trophy, Nadal turned to his opponent, saying: “I know it’s a tough moment. Daniil you are an amazing champion.

“I have been in this position a couple of times at this tournament. I have no doubt you will have this trophy a couple of times in your career.

“It has been one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career and to share the court with you is just an honour.

“I don’t know what to say. For me it’s just amazing.

“Being honest, one month and a half ago I didn’t know if I would be able to be back on the tour and now I am here sharing the trophy with all of you.

“You don’t know how much I fought to be here. Thank you so much for all the support.

“Without a doubt it’s one of the most emotional moments in my tennis career. The support I received through the three weeks is going to stay in my heart for the rest of my life.

“I really can’t explain the feelings that I have right now but I’m going to keep trying my best to come next year.”

Hailed by Federer, Djokovic

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic hailed the epic performance of their eternal rival Rafael Nadal on Sunday after he claimed a record-breaking 21st men’s grand slam at the Australian Open.

Federer, Djokovic and the Spaniard had been tied on 20 slams apiece before Nadal downed Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller at Melbourne Park.

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“What a match,” Federer wrote on Instagram. “To my friend and great rival Rafael Nadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 grand slam singles’ titles.

“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion.

“Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.

“I am proud to share this era with you and honoured to play a role in pushing you to achieve more, as you have done for me for the past 18 years.

“I am sure you have more achievements ahead. But, for now, enjoy this one!”

Switzerland’s Federer, now 40, may struggle to find the form and fitness to win another slam as he recovers from his late knee surgery.

Serbia’s Djokovic, the world number one, faces different challenges in spite of being a year younger than the 35-year-old Nadal and seemingly in the best health of the trio.

He was deported from Australia before the Open began having not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

This can also hamper his entry to the French Open —- where Nadal has won a record 13 times —- as France also require vaccinations for entry into the country.

“Congratulations to @RafaelNadal for 21st GS,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter. “Amazing achievement. Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”(dpa/NAN)

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