Rafael Nadal created history at the Melbourne Park on Sunday, rallying from two sets down to outclass Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in an enthralling Australian Open men’s singles final and earn the distinction of being the first male player to win 21 Grand Slam titles. With this victory, he has now moved one major title clear of his ‘Big Three’ rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. (More Tennis News)
Nadal’s triumph was a testament to his never-say-die attitude that has defined his professional tennis career over the years. After losing the first two sets, not many would have given him a chance to make a comeback in a match where he was pitted against a decade younger opponent. Nadal, though, displayed a nerve of steel in staging a remarkable come-from-behind win in a nail-biting contest that lasted five hours and 24 minutes.
The Australian Open victory also underlined the indefatigable Spaniard’s supreme fitness and endurance at the age of 35. He spent a total of 22 hours and 28 minutes on the court at the year’s first Grand Slam. In his last three matches, he had to beat three players in the 20s -- Denis Shapovalov (22), Matteo Berrettini and Medvedev (25) — and it took him nearly 13 hours to do that. It was an age-defying performance.
On a personal front, it was a cathartic moment for an avid admirer of Federer like me to watch Nadal clinch his 21st Grand Slam and derive joy out of his record-breaking feat. Ever since I started watching tennis, Federer has been my favourite. After he went past Pete Sampras’ then world record of 14 Grand Slam titles in 2009, I never wanted any other player to eclipse the Swiss Ace’s tally.
With Nadal emerging as a threat to Federer’s record in the ensuing years, I somehow developed a grudge against the Spaniard. It reached the point where I found myself celebrating his defeat (against anyone) more than Federer’s win. There was one occasion (that I regret now) when I, along with one of my friends who is also a Federer fan, burnt a small poster of Nadal in our college library. To sum it up, Nadal had become my bête noire in those days.
However, my grudge against Nadal gave way to adulation during the 2017 Australian Open final where Federer beat him in a five-setter – a game similar to the kind of epic contest witnessed at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
In the climactic fifth set after both players had won two sets each, Federer and Nadal produced a 26-shot rally that took my breath away, and my thoughts ceased. Though Federer eventually came up trumps in the set, the rally that nearly lasted one full minute left me in awe of Nadal’s incredible fighting spirit and class. At that moment, I converted from a Nadal detractor to a Nadal admirer.
Since that day, though Federer continued to be my all-time favourite, I felt equally at ease with Nadal’s success as well. Watching the 35-year-old prevail in the last night’s Australian Open final has only taken this admiration to a new level.
No 3 SMILES ON RAFA
Ending the piece with a humorous numerological observation that came to my mind about how No 3 played a role in Nadal’s historic win Down Under.
Nadal was born on June 3.
The final was played on January 30 (3+0= 3).
He won his 21st Grand Slam crown. The sum total of numbers in 21 is 3 (2+1= 3).
And last but not least, he rallied from two sets down to win the next 3 sets.
NB: In numerological tradition, no matter how big a number is, it is always converted into a binary number for analysis.
(Ankit Kumar Singh is a sports journalist-turned-academician with a PhD in Mass Communication from the Banaras Hindu University. Views are personal)