By Zac Cornell
After an extraordinary five and a half hour match that ended the day after it began, Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open Men’s singles title, achieving his 21st Grand Slam win, and breaking his tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to have the record for the most Grand Slam wins. The 35-year-old champion has struggled with a chronic foot problem and sat out most tournaments in 2021. However he fought through and with the audience rooting for him, beat second-seed Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in a match that will go down for the ages.
After his extraordinary win, Nadal said, “For me, it’s just amazing. 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.”
Nadal had seemed to set lower expectations for himself before this tournament. He had said in an interview reported in The New York Times on January 16th, that “normally I don’t play if I don’t think that I will be good.” But after overcoming physical ailments and recovering from Covid in December, he wanted to get back in competition. He continued, “Because I didn’t play for five, six months, I really take it in a different way. I said, OK, I want to be back on the tour, even if the preparation is not fantastic. I need to be back if I want myself to be competitive again as soon as possible.” And in a now-prophetic statement Nadal admitted, “I don’t expect; I just try to go day by day. I know the situation is not ideal for me to try to have an amazing result on the first Grand Slam. But you never know. If you are not here, it is difficult to have any chance. Being here, I want to try my best.”
Of course, you can’t win a tournament if you don’t participate, a reality that Djokovic has surely now realized. Djokovic was famously ranked first seed for this year’s Australian Open, however dropped out of the tournament after refusing to get vaccinated for Covid and being denied entry to Australia. When Nadal was asked before the tournament about Djokovic’s decision to not get vaccinated, The New York Times reported him saying, “I really feel sorry for him, you know? Even if we think a different way and we have different perspectives of the things that you have to do in these tough moments of the pandemic. I really feel a lot of sorry for him.” But Nadal expressed good will towards his rival, saying, “I wish him the best, Even if we think different, he’s a colleague on the tour, and I respect his decisions. Even if we are not agreeing.”
This is the second time that Nadal won the Australian Open, having won his first time in 2009, beating Federer for the trophy. He now has won all four majors at least twice, having won Wimbledon twice (2008, 2010), the French Open 13 times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020), and the U.S. Open four times (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019).