Nadal’s triumph slams door on young suitors again – Newspaper

MELBOUNRE: Not only did Rafa Nadal’s stunning win over Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final earn him a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, but it also once again showed the folly of assuming that a new order is taking over men’s tennis.

When Medvedev ambushed Novak Djokovic’s hopes of reaching 21 and a first men’s Grand Slam since 1969 in last year’s US Open final, it seemed like a seismic shift with the Russian leading a takeover at the top.

It seemed even more likely when 35-year-old Nadal arrived in Melbourne after almost six months away with a foot injury as the sole driver of the legendary ‘big three’.

Roger Federer was back in Switzerland to rehabilitate his injured knee while nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic was embroiled in a visa row sparked by his decision not to get a Covid-19 shot. and was eventually expelled.

That left the battle-scarred Spaniard Nadal, who had recently tested positive for Covid, to fight the young vanguard single-handedly – ​​surely too much task for even the greatest warrior tennis ever.

Djokovic’s self-inflicted exile left Medvedev as the red favourite, and if he wasn’t the one to win his second Grand Slam title, surely one of Olympic champions Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas would step in to make his big move. breakthrough.

Sixth-seeded Nadal had never flown so low under the radar heading into a Grand Slam tournament, despite winning a warm-up event in Melbourne the previous week.

When the game started two weeks ago, no one seemed to give Nadal a chance to go that far, let alone win it all.

Skeptics included Nadal himself. He was just delighted to be back in action after playing two games in total in the last half of last season due to chronic foot pain.

He went for months without being able to train. He basically had no idea how good his performances were at Melbourne Park. How well his punches or his body could resist over the course of five sets, if necessary. Worse, how many of those tournaments he would have left.

Yet the warrior instincts kicked in and we were all reminded that Nadal, as long as he is on his feet, remains a physical and psychological force of nature on a tennis court.

Russian powerhouse Karen Khachanov (25), Canadian Denis Shapovalov (22) and Italian Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini (25) all succumbed as Nadal went through the draw, before finishing the biggest comeback from his career to outlast Medvedev in five hours. 24 minute epic.

It means Nadal, months after doubting his return, is now leading the race to finish with the most Grand Slam titles, when the assumption was that Djokovic would be the one to reach uncharted territory.

GOAT DEBATE

The French Open will be Nadal’s next target and after his astonishing exploits in Melbourne, few would rule out his chances of adding a 14th title on Parisian clay – the surface that has sustained his career.

Win that and he’d rule out Federer and Djokovic twice and while Grand Slam titles aren’t the only metric used in a GOAT (greatest of all time) debate that many think is frivolous, it would make it hard to catch .

“I have to say I thought he lost the race when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semi-finals last year,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander told Eurosport.

“That was it, I thought: Nadal is out of the race. He won’t be able to. Maybe he wins another Frenchman, but probably not, and he won’t win the other tournaments. And suddenly we are there . It’s incredible.”

Nadal played down his astonishing achievement after his grueling five-set victory over Medvedev. The 35-year-old Spaniard said he doesn’t care much whether his 21st title makes him the best player in history or not.

But many fans are enthralled by the debate over who will ultimately emerge from the golden age of men’s tennis at the top, with each of the “Big Three” backed by their own phalanx of die-hard supporters.

Switzerland great Federer stood alone as the sport’s alpha male when he surpassed Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam victories at Wimbledon in 2009, with Nadal trailing six majors and Djokovic just one.

As the rush to major titles began to slow for Federer from 2010, his two great rivals stepped on the accelerator, winning Grand Slams regularly over the next decade, although Federer found his way back victory in 2017 and 2018.

Nadal equalized 20 Grand Slams after winning the French Open in 2020 and Djokovic joined the party after winning three majors in a standout 2021 season. Now Nadal stands above the two.

Throughout their careers, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have inspired each other to even greater heights, and Nadal’s resurgence could have that effect again.

Djokovic has been beaten over the past month but seeing Nadal win the major title he envisioned celebrating in Melbourne will surely motivate him.

And Federer may be 40, but he’s still capable of providing the sport with a magical last hurray.

Posted in Dawn, February 1, 2022

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