Rafael Nadal is now the sole leader in grand slams after one of the most extraordinary comeback wins of all time in the Australian Open final. He came from two sets down to down Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in just over five hours. That could be a two slam lead in five months time with the French Open likely to see him as the favourite or second favourite at worst.
The way Medvedev controlled the first set, it looked very unlikely this would be much of a contest. He was drawing countless uncharacteristic errors from Nadal while the Spaniard also threw in a number of gifts including a volley long to hand over the double break. The second set was much closer and really should have been taken by Nadal. He twice held a break lead and had one set point but was dragged to a tiebreaker by Medvedev, who took the last four points to earn a two set lead. His stunning backhand down the line on set point was the highlight and looked like that would be the nail in Nadal’s coffin for this one.
The last time these two met in a slam final, it went five and saw a comeback from two sets to love down to take it the distance. This one seemed far more unlikely between Medvedev’s current level and the error-filled performance of Nadal through two. Nadal had 36 unforced errors in the first two sets but mounted his comeback on the back of two much tidier sets. The turning point undoubtedly would have been his hold from 0-40 at *2-3 down. The hold had a mix of everything great about Nadal with the third break point saved with a deadly slice that Medvedev could not get enough on to put over the net.
The level sloped off a bit in the fourth with service games becoming far more vulnerable. After the pair traded holds from 1-1, Nadal’s next break was the key one in this set. It came at the seventh time of asking with Nadal once more pulling Medvedev in with the drop shot and hitting the passing shot back across him. The Russian will be ruing his failure to break back for 4-4, especially with the second one being blown with a tame dropshot into the bottom of the net. Nadal closed the set out with a love hold, in the ascendancy against an opponent whose newly found calmer temperament was being put to the test.
After the pair traded a pair of holds, things ramped up a notch in the fifth game. On the retreat on break point, Nadal delivered one of his trademark monster forehands down the line to lead in the match for the first time since 2-1 in the opener. Two returns that didn’t get in play on break point in the next game summed up Medvedev’s performance in much of the latter but there would be a few more twists before the match ended. 30-0 up and serving for the match, Nadal lost four straight points. However, Medvedev was unable to hold and put the pressure back on. After a miraculous return from Nadal on break point, he went for broke on the next forehand only to hit it long. It was a routine hold from Nadal to finish a match that was anything but routine.
“I was repeating to myself during the whole match, I lost a lot of times here [in Melbourne] having chances, sometimes I was a little bit unlucky. I just wanted to keep believing until the end. I just wanted to give myself a chance. That’s what I did. Just fight, just keep belief in trying to find a solution. Of course, I was lucky to save that moment. [There were] a lot of moments that can decide the final like this.” Nadal said afterwards. While there are many of his slams that performance wise were far more impressive, the manner in which this one came has to be mean this will be considered as up there with the best. The win means he joins rival Novak Djokovic as the only other player to win at least two slams on each service. He can add to a number of his records in Paris – 14 in Paris and and what would have been an unexpected 22 overall.