Rafael Nadal came into this year’s Australian Open with a lot of questions surrounding how he would fare at the first grand slam event of the season. Nadal’s 2021 season ended abruptly after a foot injury. On top of the foot injury, Nadal had also tested positive for Covid late last year, which put his Australian Open appearance further in doubt.
Nadal had not had much preparation for the first major of the year and it showed through uncharacteristic unforced errors during the first few rounds. In the quarterfinal Nadal had his first scare of the tournament after surrendering a two sets to love lead to Denis Shapovalov and having stomach issues late in the match, which was later confirmed to be heat stroke. Many thought that would end Nadal’s chances of winning the tournament since he is 35 years old and said that he was physically “destroyed” after the four hour match. Nadal proved his doubters wrong once again when he was able to recover and play a high quality semifinal against Matteo Berrettini, winning in four sets. This marked the sixth time that Nadal would contend for the Australian Open title, only prevailing once before in 2009 against his long time rival Roger Federer.
The final match would prove to be the toughest match of the tournament for Nadal, who would need to get past Daniil Medvedev to win a second Australian title and 21st overall slam. Medvedev is arguably the most dangerous hard court player in the world right now, entering the prime of his career after defeating Novak Djokovic at the US Open last year.
Medvedev was the clear favorite entering the match and it looked like he would easily win his second major title in a row after dominating the first set and taking it 6-2. Medvedev did not shy away from the moment and recovered from a break down twice in the second set, as well as being down 3-5 in the tiebreaker to take the second set 7-6. Medvedev had the finish line in sight in the third set when up 3-2 and triple break point on Nadal’s serve. For the first time in the match Medvedev seemed to tighten up slightly and Nadal took full advantage. Nadal rallied to level the set at 3-3 and went on to take the third set 6-4. Nadal continued to punish Medvedev with heavy forehands and mixing in a variety of dropshots to eventually level the set at two sets apiece.
In the fifth set it was Nadal who struck first with a break of serve and would eventually serve for the match at 5-4. Medvedev, who had looked exhausted for much of the fourth and fifth set, found another gear to break back and level the score in the fifth. Nadal had previously lost two Australian Open finals after having a break lead in the final set and it looked for a moment that the Spaniard might come short in the same fashion for a third time. However, Nadal dug deep and broke Medvedev back immediately and successfully served the match out for a 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory lasting nearly five and a half hours.Nadal’s win propelled him in front of rivals Djokovic and Federer, who before this tournament were all tied with 20 grand slam titles. Not only did Nadal make history with his 21st slam, but he once again proved why he should never be counted out. The Australian Open final was a great show of Nadal’s grit and fighting spirit when all hope seemed to be lost.