Rafael Nadal has staged an epic Australian Open final fightback to claim a record-setting 21st grand slam singles crown.
Nadal recovered from two sets to love down for the first time in 15 years to defeat second seed Daniil Medvedev 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-4 7-5 in a drama-charged climax to the tournament at Melbourne Park.
The landmark victory in a five-hour, 24-minute war of attrition that finished past midnight on Monday morning vaulted the Spaniard one slam clear of great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the all-time major titles leaderboard.
The sapping encounter was the second-longest final in Open history, behind only Nadal’s five-hour, 53-minute loss to Djokovic in 2012.
In claiming the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for a second time, 13 years after his first triumph, Nadal also joins Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Djokovic as only the fourth man in tennis history to win each of the four grand slam titles at least twice.
On the canvas after second set
Laver fittingly enjoyed a front-row view in the arena named in his honour as his fellow southpaw pulled off one of the most incredible wins of his legendary career.
Seemingly on the canvas after dropping the second set from 5-3 up, 35-year-old Nadal somehow conjured his first escape from two sets down since beating another Russian, Mikhail Youzhny, in the Wimbledon fourth round in 2006.
Youzhny, though, wasn’t the world No.2, reigning US Open champion and riding a 13-match grand slam winning streak like Medvedev.
Even more remarkably, Nadal had only played two matches between last June and January because of a crippling foot injury and remained in doubt for this tournament until after Christmas.
Yet it was 25-year-old Medvedev, a decade Nadal’s junior, who imploded mentally and physically.
The mercurial Medvedev cut an animated figure throughout the match as he remonstrated with his box and complained to Australian chair umpire John Blom about the ball kids and then rowdy spectators who ultimately tipped the Russian over the edge.
“Can you take control please? A small ‘please’ is not enough,” Medvedev pleaded with Blom after dropping serve to fall behind 3-2 in the fourth set.
Russian furious at heckling fans
He was furious at the heckling fans for continually disrupting his serving focus.
“Can you step up? Say it every time.
“If you have to say it 25 times, you say it every time they do it, after the point, you say it every time.
“Step up, man, it’s the final of a grand slam. Please step up. Please is not enough. Please is not enough. They are idiots. With idiots, ‘please’ doesn’t work. Step up.”
But Blom’s more forceful intervention moments later couldn’t save Medvedev from surrendering the fourth set as the crowd willed Nadal the sentimental favourite towards a famous victory.
Daniil Medvedev cuts a forlorn figure after the final. Photo: Getty
Medvedev also suffered physically, calling for the trainer and needing pickle juice and his left thigh massaged to prevent cramping as the sapping final ticked past the four-hour mark.
After Medvedev double-faulted on the opening point of the deciding set, Blom finally threatened offenders with removal from Rod Laver Arena if they continued shouting between the Russian’s first and second deliveries.
Security guards had already been called to the court to eject a refugee activist during the second set.
There was no coming back for Medvedev when he dropped serve in the fifth game as Nadal rejoiced and sank to his knees after adding his second Australian Open title to his 13 French Open trophies, two Wimbledon crowns and four US Open successes.
The most recent of those victories in New York in 2019 also came after denying Medvedev in five sets in the final.