Rafael Nadal makes history, wins 21st Grand Slam

Although the moment was not his, Novak Djokovic recognized its importance.

Rafael Nadal reached 21 first, breaking the men's record for most Grand Slam singles titles, and did it the hard way by coming back from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev in a nearly five-and-a-half-hour Australian Open final.

The 35-year-old Spaniard now has one more major title than Roger Federer and Djokovic, his long-time rivals in the so-called “Big 3”.

With the 2–6, 6–7 (5), 6–4, 6–4, 7–5 victory, Nadal also became only the fourth man in history to win the sport's four major titles at least twice.

And with that –– for now, at least when it comes to men's major titles –– Nadal looks set to capture the GOAT title.

Nadal said it was “one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career” and praised Medvedev for the part he played in the 5-hour, 24-minute final. It was the second-longest Australian Open final, behind Nadal's loss to Djokovic in the 2012 decider which lasted 5:53 hours.

His victory was all the more remarkable as Nadal flew to Australia with just two matches under his belt in the second half of 2021 as he was ruled out by a chronic foot injury that could be treated but not cured. He also overcame a battle with COVID-19.

“For me it's surprising. To be honest, a month and a half ago, I didn't know if I would be able to play on this tour again,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt, (it was) probably the most emotional month of my tennis career.

“The overwhelming support I have received over the last three weeks will be in my heart for the rest of my life.”

Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and lost four other finals at Melbourne Park before his dramatic win over US Open champion Medvedev. His conversion rate in major finals is now 21 of 29. Federer and Djokovic have 20 majors in 31 finals.

Medvedev, who was aiming to become the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the next major, came very close to spoiling another 21st celebration.

Djokovic was chasing the same record as well as a calendar-year Grand Slam at the US Open last year, when Medvedev defeated him in straight sets in the final.

Federer also had his chance at the age of 21, but Djokovic snuffed it out while saving multiple match points before winning the 2019 Wimbledon final.

Medvedev now joins Andy Murray among those who have lost the final at their next major tournament after success at the highest level of their careers.

It was the fourth time Nadal has come from two sets down to win a best-of-five match and the first since his 2007 Wimbledon fourth-round victory over Mikhail Youzhny.

Nadal was the only member of the “Big 3” to claim the singles record in Australia. Federer is still recovering from knee surgery and Djokovic was sensationally deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament after a dramatic 11-day saga over his visa status because he failed to meet the country's strict COVID-19 vaccination rules.

Here's how the internet reacted to Nadal's record-breaking win:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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