Rafael Nadal has once again proven that age is just a number. For the Spaniard, his age of 35 has become another statistic in his lengthy and famous career. It is in the mid-30s, tennis players used to ponder about retirement. However, the pattern appears to be changing in recent years, owing to improved healthcare and athletes keeping a high level of fitness. This was clear initially with Roger Federer, who was still playing strong in his late-30s, and now it is Nadal’s turn. In the Australian Open, the ‘King of Clay’ created history. His second Grand Slam trophy in Melbourne turns out to be the one that helps him to leapfrog two of his main competitors – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. On Sunday, Nadal beat Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to win Grand Slam number 21.
It is the most any male singles player has won in the sport’s history. The previous best was 20 titles, which was first reached by Roger Federer, but soon the Spaniard and the Serbian leveled it. Prior to that, it was the Swiss maestro who was the trend setter. Federer had broken Pete Sampras’ long-standing record of 14 Grand Slam crowns. Now, it is Rafael Nadal’s turn. The Spaniard has broken from the pack, while the rest are chasing him. It is not clear how long Nadal can maintain the top spot in the all time Grand Slam list, but with his favourite Slam – French Open – coming next, he will hope to extend his tally to 22 titles.
What makes Nadal’s 21st Grand Slam title extra special is the fact that the Spaniard is participating in the tournament after a long gap. The ‘King of Clay’ has not played a singles match since the Citi Open last August due to a left foot injury until this month, when he won the Melbourne Summer Set trophy. Also not to mention that a positive COVID-19 test had hampered Nadal’s pre-season. Despite all the difficulties, the Spaniard did not throw in the towel.
Rafael Nadal has won his first title after returning from injury, and with the Australian Open, he has made it two in two for 2022. Nadal’s win over the Russian has extended his perfect 2022 record to 10-0. Despite coming from a long injury lay-off, the Spaniard has played as if he has never been away in Melbourne. It was not all easy for Nadal in the season’s first Grand Slam. He was pushed to his limits on multiple occasions over the last two weeks at Melbourne Park. The left-hander survived Denis Shapovalov in five sets in the quarter-finals, before prevailing over seventh-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini in the semi-finals.
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Notably, Nadal expressed how grateful he was to play tennis again after defeating the Italian in the last four match. He was content to have the opportunity to play tennis rather than capture a record 21st Grand Slam title. “For me, it’s something completely unexpected, so I am super happy. I always try my best. My goal now is to win. [But] I am taking things in a little bit of a different way now. Of course, with the competitive spirit that I have, I can’t go against that. It’s my personal DNA. But in some ways, [just to] be able to have the chance to compete at this level, it’s positive energy for me to keep going, because being very honest, for me it is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win number 21,” Nadal had said.
On Sunday though, Rafael Nadal was determined to create history. On numerous occasions, Nadal’s competitive spirit did not let him to give up on the classic of a final. Going two sets behind or facing a much younger opponent did not bother the Spaniard. Nadal continued believing and did what he always does: he staged a remarkable comeback to win the final three sets on Sunday. Nadal blew the opportunity at 5-4 to see out the final when he was serving for the championship. Daniil Medvedev broke him, but the veteran broke back and then held serve with minimal fuss to re-write the history books.
In some people’s eyes, narrowly topping a Grand Slam list isn’t enough to be considered the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). Nonetheless, Rafael Nadal played in a generation when many people expected two of his competitors – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – to rule the tennis world, but the Spaniard hadn’t ever vanished. He was never far away from his rivals. His reward is a chance to top the coveted Grand Slam list of all time. While Federer’s best days may be behind him, Djokovic, who is a year younger than Nadal, has a good chance of overtaking the Spaniard’s Grand Slam tally. But, regardless of what happens in the future, Nadal has earned the right to be heard in the GOAT debate forever.