Rafael Nadal, not Novak Djokovic, is set to make history in Australia

Somehow, the story of the Australian Open is no longer Novak Djokovic – it's Rafael Nadal.

In the lead-up to the first major tournament of the year, which saw world No. 1 Djokovic exiled from Australia due to his unvaccinated status, one of his main rivals — Nadal — will look to make history. In the final on Sunday.

Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer have each won 20 Grand Slams, and if Nadal can defeat second-seeded Daniil Medvedev at the tournament championship, he – not Djokovic, who has won six of the last 11 Grand Slams – will become the first at 21. .

Medvedev is chasing a piece of his own history after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a heated semifinal on Friday. The US Open champion is aiming to become the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the next major tournament.

Nadal reached his sixth final in Australia with an almost one-sided 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over seventh seed Matteo Berrettini in the first match of the men's semi-finals, and despite Medvedev reaching the top of his game, all eyes will be on Nadal. who has not won a Grand Slam other than the French Open since winning the 2019 US Open.

Additionally, Nadal has not won the Aussie Open since 2009, his only career win at the first major of the year.

Nadal arrived in Australia not knowing how long he would stay after suffering a serious leg injury and then taking months off from the tour to battle COVID-19. He skipped Wimbledon last season after losing to Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals and hasn't played since August last year.

Nadal said, “Every day there are problems with the foot. Doubts are still there … probably for the rest of my career.” “But for me it's amazing… (to) just compete and play tennis at a high level again against the most important players in the world.”

Last month, he wasn't even sure he would be able to return to the tour. But he won a tune-up tournament in Melbourne and won six straight matches in the first Grand Slam event of the year.

One more win and Nadal would not only break the record of 20 major championships shared by Federer and Djokovic, but he would also become the fourth man to win all four Grand Slam titles at least twice, a feat that even Federer has failed to achieve.

“For me it's more than anything at the Australian Open,” Nadal said in his on-court interview after his semifinal win. “I've been a bit unlucky (here) with some injuries in my career. I've played some amazing finals with good opportunities.”

He lost classic five-set finals at Melbourne Park to Djokovic in 2012 and Federer in '17. Nadal lost to Stan Wawrinka in 2014 and Djokovic three years ago.

He said, I feel very lucky that I won once. “I didn't think about another chance in 2022.”

Nadal was the only member of the so-called “Big 3” to break the deadlock in Australia this time.

Federer is out while recovering from knee surgery, and Djokovic – who won his ninth Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park – was deported on the eve of the tournament after an 11-day visa saga because he failed to meet Australia's strict COVID-19 restrictions. Vaccination requirements.

“I can't explain in words how important it is for me to be where I am today, in terms of energy, in terms of personal satisfaction, in terms of great gratitude,” Nadal said.

“For me it's totally unexpected.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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