Federer and Djokovic praise 'great champion' Nadal for Slam record

Rafael Nadal poses with Australian Open trophy at the locker room in Melbourne. (AFP)
Rafael Nadal poses with Australian Open trophy at the locker room in Melbourne. (AFP)

Nadal, 35, battled back from two sets down to defeat Russia’s Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in a gruelling 5hr 24min in Melbourne



By AFP

Published: Mon 31 Jan 2022, 12:49 AM

Rafael Nadal’s record 21st Grand Slam title, secured in an epic Australian Open final on Sunday was hailed by both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who had been tied with him on 20.

Nadal, 35, battled back from two sets down to defeat Russia’s Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in a gruelling 5hr 24min in Melbourne.

It crowned an extraordinary effort from Nadal at the year’s opening major, having to modify his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that ended his 2021 season last August.

Federer, who came close to becoming the first to 21 when he lost in five sets by Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon final, missed the Australian Open recovering from knee surgery.

“To my friend and great rival @rafaelnadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles,” 40-year-old Federer posted on Instagram.

“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches, amazing. Never underestimate a great champion.

“Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.”

Djokovic’s hopes of being the first to 21 were dashed when he was deported from Australia prior to the Grand Slam over vaccination issues.

However, the 34-year-old Serbian tweeted his congratulations — after he had first saluted Ashleigh Barty on her title win on Saturday.

“Amazing achievement. Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.

“Enhorabuena (Congratulations — followed by applause, trophy and thumbs up icons).”

Before Sunday, the last time the Spaniard won from a two-set deficit was 15 years ago, and a second Australian Open title was the last thing he had expected, he said.

A couple of months back he was even considering retiring after a foot problem that has troubled him throughout his carrier resurfaced, forcing him to miss a chunk of the 2021 season including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.

Underprepared and not in the best of health after suffering a bout of Covid-19, Nadal said he did not expect to go all the way at Melbourne Park, where his only previous success came way back in 2009.

Yet he stitched together an 11-match winning streak following his arrival Down Under, outlasting even the top-seeded Medvedev, who beat arguably the greatest hardcourt player ever in Novak Djokovic in straight sets in New York, in an intensely emotional and physical battle.

Nadal lost about 4 kilograms during his five-set battle in the last eight against Denis Shapovalov and under the floodlights on Sunday he sweated profusely from the start - leaving many in the stands wondering if he would even last if the contest went the distance against the supremely fit Russian.

But the Spaniard said he enjoyed the fight.

“I was not ready physically for these kind of battles, honestly. I didn’t practice enough to be ready for it,” he said.

“But tonight has been very special. I gave it everything that I had inside, believe me. I am, yeah, super, super tired. I even can’t celebrate.”


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