There's nobody else like Rafael Nadal.
The legendary Spaniard won a men's-record 21st Grand Slam title Sunday, coming back from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in the men's singles final at the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne.
Nadal's thrilling comeback broke a deadlock with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for the most career Grand Slam men's singles titles. His tally includes 13 French Open titles, four U.S. Open titles, two Wimbledon titles and now two Australian Open triumphs that came 13 years apart.
"I even don't know what to say guys. For me, it's just amazing, being honest. One month and a half ago, I didn't know if I was going to be able to be back on the tour playing tennis again," Nadal said after the match, per the Guardian's Daniel Harris and Luke McLaughlin. "And today I'm here in front of all you with this trophy with me, and you don't know how much I've fought to be here. I can't thank you enough for all the support I've had since I arrived here, you are just amazing."
Praise poured in for both Nadal and Medvedev following the instant classic.
Nadal, 35, was something of a surprise finalist in Melbourne, as he spent several months last year sidelined by a chronic foot injury that had him considering retirement. He also tested positive for COVID-19 in December.
It's a tough loss to swallow for Medvedev, who was looking for his second Grand Slam title after beating Djokovic in the 2021 U.S. Open. He won more total points (189 to 182) and smashed more aces (23 to three) in the final, but Nadal's composure and shotmaking in the key moments helped him come out on top. The five-hour, 24-minute match is the second longest men's major final in the Open Era, per ESPN Stats & Info.
The first set was one-way action in favor of Medvedev. He was ruthless on serve and a stalwart as a returner playing from his deep-lying position. The lanky baseliner broke Nadal in the fifth and seventh games of the set to run away with it.
Nadal managed to find a groove in the second set. He broke Medvedev in the fourth game to go up 3-1, a feat that included a 40-shot rally capped off by a breathtaking backhand winner.
That game looked like it had the makings of an early momentum shift, especially with the crowd firmly behind Nadal and cheering his every point. Medvedev wasn't having any of it. He battled his way back into the set with a couple of breaks and then took a commanding lead by winning the tiebreaker.
With his back against the wall, Nadal showed why he's one of the best to have ever played the game. At 4-4 in the third set, Nadal got the break he desperately needed to go up 5-4. He then served to win the set, ripping some excellent forehand winners along the way.
The fourth set saw the lefty get more aggressive with his forehand, firing away at Medvedev and forcing the Russian to chase his shots all over the court. As the match approached the four-hour mark, Nadal looked much fresher than the player 10 years his junior. Medvedev's legs sagged as he dropped the fourth set 6-4 to set up the final frame.
Nadal drew first blood in the fifth game of the deciding set, hitting a wicked forehand winner to go up 3-2. The next game was a brutal, 13-minute war-within-a-war that saw Nadal save three break points to hold for 4-2.
Incredibly, that grueling game wasn't even the final twist in the drama. With Nadal serving for the match, Medvedev got a break to even it at 5-5. Not to be outdone in this epic, Nadal broke back to go up 6-5. He then served out to make history, sending the crowd at Rod Laver Arena into thunderous applause.
Despite the loss, Medvedev has established himself as one of the top male players in tennis with his run in Melbourne. He will continue to be a threat at Grand Slams for years to come.
As for Nadal, he can look to extend his lead in all-time Grand Slams on the clay courts of Roland-Garros in May and June.
All stats courtesy of AusOpen.com.