Rafael Nadal pulled off a sensational victory in the Australian Open final to put himself ahead in the great Grand Slam race.
The 35-year-old Spaniard scored arguably the most dramatic win of his career by coming back to beat Daniil Medvedev 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 before a delirious crowd in Melbourne.
With the time past 1am he clinched it with a high backhand volley to take the final in five hours and 24 minutes. It was an astonishing feat, both of stamina and tactical acumen as he called on his sliced backhand and dropshots.
Rafael Nadal pulled off a sensational victory in the Australian Open final for his 21st major
Nadal is now ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the race for the most Grand Slams
The Spaniard came back from two sets down to come through 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 in Melbourne
Medvedev had the early initiative but Nadal came storming back in an epic over five hours long
Yet it was Nadal who came out on top in the fifth set, serving it out at the second attempt
Nadal is now one ahead of the absent Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on 21 Grand Slam titles with the French Open to come. Like Federer in 2017, he won the tournament despite having missed the second half of last season with a prolonged injury.
With both players running on fumes, he held on to register his first win from two sets down in fourteen years. Different from Wimbleton 2008, it was surely his finest Grand Slam achievement ever, and definitely his least likely.
Medvedev was aided by the roof being closed due to rain, which is not the Spaniard’s preferred environment. The Russian forced Nadal back in the first set, powered by a phenomenal first serve consistency rate of 82 per cent.
Nadal made a conscious effort to play closer to the baseline in the second and threw in some beautifully flighted dropshots to wrong-foot his gangly opponent.
Nadal struggled early on as the world No 2 Medvedev took the opener relatively comfortably
Medvedev then whipped the crowd up into a frenzy when he won the second set on a tiebreak
The raucous crowd in Melbourne were cheering for Nadal as he chased tennis history
Twice he led by a break but could never land the killer blow with the Russian refusing to yield. An intruder protesting about refugee treatment got onto the court at 5-3 but was quickly dealt with by security.
The Spaniard got ahead to 5-3 in the tiebreak, only for Medvedev to maintain superb depth on his shots when it most mattered, and he ran off four straight points, the last of them being a rasping backhand pass down the line that sealed an 84-minute set.
At 3-2 in the third Medvedev created three break points with more brilliant defence and another backhand down the line, but he flinched on all of them when a decisive blow beckoned.
The 35-year-old came roaring back as he fought exhaustion to take the match the distance
Medvedev continued to fight valiantly in the wave of a Nadal storm on Rod Laver Arena
That proved a significant turning point, with the Russian getting increasingly riled by the crowd, sarcastically applauding them in the course of being broken for 4-5. When Nadal closed the set out the roof was nearly lifted off the Rod Laver Arena.
A brilliant fourth set ensued, in which breaks were exchanged before Nadal edged ahead. Mistakes were mixed in with brilliant winners as the time moved towards midnight and both players showed signs of weariness, with the Russian getting his thighs rubbed.
He implored umpire John Blom to intervene with the crowd, saying that some of them were ‚idiots‘. ‚Step up man, final of a Grand Slam,‘ he told the chair, who again asked for calm.
The Russian also had some stern words for the umpire about some shouts from the spectators
Nadal dropped his racket and looked towards his corner in disbelief after securing victory
The two players embraced at the net and were gracious in their post-match speeches
Nadal had a set point at 5-3 against serve but was forced wide and missed a forehand. As the clock struck midnight he served the set out to love.
The Spaniard broke in the fifth set for 3-2 with a backhand pass and clung on with his opponent looking to have gained a third or fourth wind, with massages on his thighs during the changeovers.
He served at 5-4 but was broken from 30-0 up, nervously double faulting in the process. Then came another bite at glory, as on a third break point Medvedev hit the ball long to hand the initiative back. This time there was no mistake and he served it out to love.
The Spaniard bites the men’s singles trophy in traditional fashion to cap off a mad fortnight
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