Few could have scripted an ending so magical, or a match so scintillating. Nadal, the sixth seed took on Daniil Medvedev, with most anticipating the latter would emerge victorious from such a clash. And after the first set, things certainly did look in Medvedev’s favour. His dominance was unquestionable, presenting something akin to a brick wall which Nadal struggled to break through. But in the third set, with the crowd behind him, Nadal did what he is known to do: he fought back. Ever the consummate athlete, where most were ready to count him out, Nadal only dug deeper, finding a reserve within himself to pull out those shots that make viewers watch on in awe, unable to understand just how someone can continue moving so effortlessly on court, with such masterful shots, even after four hours had elapsed.
When Nadal managed to snag victory in a fifth set, claiming victory 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, the win was nothing short of spectacular. In five hours and 24 minutes, Nadal seemed ever the youthful player we have grown up watching, the game marking the second longest grand slam final in history. It also was the first time in Nadal’s illustrious career that he’s come back from two sets down in a slam final to win, with the Spaniard now holding at least two singles titles at all four grand slam tournaments.
Speaking about the victory, Nadal said: “If we put everything together, the scenario, the momentum, what it means. Yeah, without a doubt probably have been the biggest comeback of my tennis career.”
Having been plagued with a chronic foot injury that saw Nadal sidelined for the greater part of six months prior to the Australian Open, Nadal’s future in the sport was questionable. Rumours of retirement continued to swirl around the star athlete and Covid only dealt him a greater blow by disrupting his preparation. But never one to count himself out, Nadal persevered and his 21st Grand Slam title is testament to that fighting spirit. “The most unexpected, without a doubt,” he said about the Australian Open win. “And most surprising I think for everyone. For you guys, too. For me personally, especially, no? Because I know how I arrived here. I don’t know. Have been a very emotional night. Even now I am destroyed, honestly, physically. I can’t think much, I can’t remember a lot of moments of the match.”
In celebration of the greatest comeback in the Spaniard’s career, we look back at five other key moments from his career.
First Grand Slam Win Down Under
2022’s men’s final might have been one for the history books, but who could forget Nadal’s first slam win on hard court. Having long been renowned for his dominance on clay, in 2009 Nadal silenced his doubters by proving he can win on any surface, including those of the Australian Open. In a five-set epic in 2009, he claimed victory over Roger Federer in a thrilling match, marking the first time Nadal had a Grand Slam title on every surface, including clay and grass.
2008 Roland Garros Victory
In 2008, Nadal cemented his name in the history books by tying with Bjorn Borg as the only two men in the Open era to win four consecutive French Open titles. After defeating Mariano Puerta in the 2005 French Open final, he then went on to beat Roger Federer in three straight French Open finals from 2006 to 2008, never needing more than four sets.
Nadal Completes Golden Slam
Having won at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and even an Olympic medal, there was one grand slam that eluded Nadal: the US Open – the last Slam of the season. Nadal changed this in 2010 when he took on Novak Djokovic at the US Open final, taking out the Serbian in four sets to complete the Career Golden Slam and one of the most remarkable seasons by any player in history. It saw him win three of the four Slams in 2010, something that’s only ever been accomplished 13 times by 11 men in the history of the sport.
Success at Wimbledon
Nadal had suffered numerous defeats at Wimbledon, most of them to his rival Roger Federer in 2006 and 2007. But he finally managed to capture his moment of glory in 2008. After nearly five hours of play in what is the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history, Nadal survived a back and fourth thriller to claim victory against Federer. Many consider it to be one of the greatest finals to have ever been played.
An Olympic Gold
At just 22-years-of-age, Nadal won gold for Spain at the 2008 Summer Olympics, defeating Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in the gold medal match. After victory at the Australian and US Open in 2009 and 2010, the Olympic gold enabled Nadal to wrap up the Career Golden Slam, an accomplishment that few tennis players have achieved throughout the sport’s history.