Nadal edges out Medvedev in five-set thriller to win Australian Open

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MELBOURNE — Rafa Nadal roared after two sets to edge past Daniil Medvedev in a classic Australian Open final and claim a record 21st Grand Slam title just months after fearing his glorious career was over.

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With Novak Djokovic off with the expulsion and Roger Federer recovering from knee surgery, the Spaniard great now has a Major title lead over his ‘Big Three’ rivals after surviving a 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7 -5 thriller at Rod Laver Arena.

“It was one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career,” Nadal said after the five-hour, 24-minute epic.

“It’s just amazing now (given) that a month and a half ago I didn’t know if I would be able to get back on the circuit to play tennis again.

“And today I’m here in front of you all with this trophy with me.”

Riding a wave of raucous support from the crowd, a vintage Nadal pulled off his biggest escape to deny Medvedev again, less than three years after he left heartbroken in five sets in the US final. Open 2019.

In a drama-laden game that lasted into the early hours of Monday morning, sixth seed Nadal was two points clear of the title but was broken as he served for the game at 5-4.

He held on to smash Medvedev again and served the match at love, with a backhand volley the final knockout blow.

Dropping his racquet, Nadal shook his head and smiled, then kicked a tennis ball and clenched his fists in joy.

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Tributes poured in from around the world, with Federer and Djokovic quick to congratulate him.

“A few months ago we were joking that we were both on crutches. Incredible. Never underestimate a great champion,” Federer wrote on social media.

“An incredible achievement,” said Serbian Djokovic. “Always an impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”

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It was a triumph that defied time and logic, with Nadal, 35, battling a two-set deficit for the first time in 15 years – last against Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.

It happened 10 years after losing a five-set marathon to Djokovic at the 2012 Australian Open, which lasted almost six hours.

After suffering three more final defeats in 2014, 2017 and 2019, Nadal can now relish a second crown at Melbourne Park, 13 years after defeating Federer in another epic match in 2009.

The long hair and pirate shorts of that era have fallen by the wayside, but the class and fighting spirit lives on despite the titanic battles with his body.

He missed Wimbledon due to fatigue and the US Open with a chronic foot condition, leaving him on the verge of quitting the sport at the end of 2021.

“THE CHILD STOPPED DREAMING”

Just spending week two at Melbourne Park was miraculous for the Spaniard, who joins Djokovic, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to have won all four Grand Slam titles at least twice each.

Beaten by Djokovic in last year’s final, US Open champion Medvedev has now lost three of his top four decision makers.

Often booed and heckled by sections of the shameless pro-Nadal crowd, Medvedev admitted the chilly reception hurt him and he was still raw hours after the game.

After a lengthy monologue in his post-match press conference, Medvedev said he would happily skip Wimbledon or the French Open if he could play in front of home fans in Russia instead.

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“The kid stopped dreaming. The kid is going to play for himself,” he said emotionally.

“It will be more difficult to continue tennis when it’s like this.”

The excited crowd was often unruly and an intruder jumped onto the pitch to protest Australia’s detention of refugees as Nadal struggled to serve the second set.

After a brief delay as the protester was led off the field by security, Medvedev made it two sets after sealing the tie-break and waved his hands towards the crowd with a smirk.

It proved a red rag for a bull as Nadal and the terraces united to harass Medvedev for the rest of the game.

The Russian found himself begging for crowd control from the chair umpire as Nadal returned to the game.

“They are idiots. No brains. Empty brains. Probably in their life it must be very bad,” he grumbled during a change of course.

The 25-year-old’s frustrations only increased as the game wore on and his coverage on the pitch dwindled. He frowned as a trainer worked on his left thigh but dragged himself to make a game of it.

Nadal, however, was not to be denied.

Ten years older than Medvedev, with squeaky knees and a suspicious foot, the Spaniard has finished plenty of races, showing himself and the world that more records may still be at his mercy.

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