Rafael Nadal Wins 2022 Australian Open; Overtakes Federer, Djokovic With 21st Title

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 30, 2022

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after nearly hitting the umpire as he plays 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 -- / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by William WEST has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [early on January 31, 2022.] instead of [on January 30, 2022.]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. - -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
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Rafael Nadal has won the race to 21.

Nadal came from behind to earn a thrilling 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Daniil Medvedev to win the 2022 Australian Open. The Spaniard's victory breaks a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the most Grand Slams in men's tennis history. 

If this proves to be the 35-year-old's final Slam triumph, he pulled out all the stops. Nadal dropped the first two sets and appeared in dire straits against the younger, more powerful Medvedev, who at times looked overwhelming.

In typical Nadal form, his resolve never wavered.

Over the course of a five-hour, 24-minute marathon, Nadal battled back, taking the third and fourth sets thanks to well-timed breaks before closing things out in the fifth. The match is the second-longest men's Slam final of the Open Era, trailing only the 2012 Australian Open final between Nadal and Djokovic.

With the match going well past the 1 a.m. local time mark, Nadal used his experience and guile in the fifth set to outlast the 25-year-old Medvedev. He went up a break and took momentum early in the set, sitting at 5-4 with a chance to close things out on serve.

Medvedev, unwilling to relent, stayed in the match with a break back of Nadal to knot things up at 5-5. Facing the prospect of falling behind in the fifth set, Nadal again rallied in a back-and-forth game that finally saw him earn a break after three attempts. He then closed the match on serve in relatively short order.

The final statistics of the match could hardly have been any closer. Nadal won 27 games to Medvedev's 26. Medvedev actually outpointed Nadal 189-182 but converted one fewer of their identical 22 break-point chances—a stat that ultimately decided the match.

Nadal has now won each Grand Slam at least twice, joining Djokovic, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to pull off the feat. His 18-year span between his first and most recent Grand Slam is also the second-longest in men's tennis history, behind only Ken Rosewall (20 years).

Nadal will head into the year's second major, the French Open, as the favorite for his 14th championship at Roland Garros. He has racked up an astonishing 105-3 record at the clay-court major and has won the event four of the last five years.

Djokovic got over the hump to defeat Nadal during last year's semifinal clash, but his status for the French Open remains unclear because of his vaccination status. The Serb was deported from Australia before the Open because he is unvaccinated, and France's new vaccine laws put him at risk of not being allowed into the country.

With Federer's future in tennis unclear at the moment, the field could be wide-open for Nadal to continue polishing up his GOAT resume in France.