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Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open, makes history with 21st Grand Slam win

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After two grueling weeks, Rafael Nadal is the last man standing. After an epic five-set match that included a thrilling, gritty comeback from two sets down, Nadal has won the Australian Open. He defeated Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, taking advantage of Medvedev's massive collapse and finding reserves of energy he may not have known he even had over a match that lasted five hours and 24 minutes.

With this victory, Nadal becomes the first man to win 21 Grand Slams, leaving both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer still tied at 20 each.

This triumph represents a major comeback for Nadal. He spent the past six months battling both injury and illness, and then had to rally from what felt like almost certain defeat against Medvedev. But they don't call him one of the greatest for nothing.

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after winning against Russia's Daniil Medvedev during their men's singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne early on January 31, 2022. - -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal made history on Sunday, winning his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam by beating Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Nadal overcomes deficit, exhaustion

When the match began, it seemed clear early that Medvedev could cruise to the win. He won the first set easily, and then came back from a 4-1 deficit in the second set to force a tiebreak and win. He was just one set from glory.

But then Nadal turned it on. At the moment when you'd expect him to start to wilt, to become exhausted and show his age, he got his second wind. He and Medvedev battled back and forth in the third set, and then Medvedev began to show signs of stress. He started to look tired and make uncharacteristic mistakes. He got annoyed at the chair umpire for not being more forceful with the crowd.

Because the crowd was firmly on Nadal's side. He didn't take advantage of it, and supported the chair umpire when he directed the fans to be silent, but Medvedev began getting annoyed at the crowd's constant celebrating of his own mistakes. Nadal took the third set and looked to be a new man — not exuberant, but lively, crafty, and obviously fully believing he could complete the comeback.

After four hours and 12 minutes, it was a new game. Tied at two sets each, the final set would decide it all. It had been 15 years since Nadal had come back from two sets down to win, but after tying the set 2-2, he finally took a lead at 3-2. His serve was stronger than ever, and Medvedev was having trouble handling not just that, but some of Nadal's signature shots.

Nadal whipped out every single shot, every trick, every strategy he could think of. He left it all on the court while Medvedev continually tried and failed to pick up the pieces of his epic collapse. Medvedev managed to tie the final set 5-5, and it all came down to the final two games. With the final game, in which Medvedev wasn't able to score a single point, Nadal erased years and years of heartbreak at Rod Laver Arena and made history with his 21st Grand Slam win and his first Australian Open title since 2009, just his second ever.

Nadal's incredible comeback

Coming into the Australian Open, Nadal had no expectations. He'd played only three matches in the past six months. He'd had to put a stop to his 2021 season disappointingly early due to that foot injury, and had also become sick with COVID. He didn't know how his body would react to the rigors of competition.

Nadal's body didn't always play along over the past two weeks. He was deeply affected by the dry heat in his epic five-set quarterfinal against Denis Shapovalov, letting his two-set lead evaporate into a tie before coming back getting the win. He admitted after his semifinal match against Matteo Berrettini that he got tired after two sets, but he still managed to push through and emerge victorious.

That's why he's one of the best to ever play. At 35 years old and not yet at full fitness, he found the power, the precision, the aggression, and the energy to come back against a player 10 years his junior. He now stands alone in the record books.

When he scored that final, deciding point, he didn't collapse to the ground in tears — not yet, at least. He dropped his racket and covered his mouth, almost like he couldn't believe what he'd done. You could see a grin peeking out from behind his fingers, and soon he was the exuberant Rafa everyone loves to see.

He soon went over to his team, who had been clutching each other in a giant, many-armed embrace, to celebrate with them. He and his father also shared a special moment.

During the ceremony, Nadal admitted that he didn't know just six weeks ago if he'd even be able to compete at the Australian Open. He thanked the crowd, which had been behind him from first serve to final return, for their loud and constant support.

Once he was back inside the locker room, he hugged his team again before literally collapsing on the ground.

Minutes later, Nadal was somehow upright and cooling down on the bike. And that's what makes him one of the true GOATs of tennis.

Speaking of tennis GOATs, his longtime rival and friend Roger Federer quickly jumped on Instagram to congratulate Nadal on his landmark win.