Rafael Nadal played only 29 matches in 2021, struggling with injuries and missing important tournaments. The Spaniard played only one event in the opening three months, wasting two sets to love advantage against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open and returning on his beloved clay.
Rafa had to dig deep to claim titles in Barcelona and Rome, hoping for more of the same at Roland Garros but losing an epic semi-final to Novak Djokovic in four hours and 11 minutes. The legend played only two official matches in the rest of the year, wrapping up the season in August and undergoing a minor foot procedure in September.
Nadal did not know what to expect at the beginning of the new season, traveling to Melbourne with many question marks. As it turned out, Rafa had nothing to be worried about, winning all ten matches and lifting two ATP titles.
The Spaniard secured the 21st Major crown at the Australian Open, enduring all the obstacles and writing history books following a historic final. After passing the stern Denis Shapovalov test, Nadal defeated Matteo Berrettini to advance into the sixth title match at Melbourne Park, with world no.
2 Daniil Medvedev standing between him and the trophy. After an epic battle, the veteran prevailed 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in five hours and 24 minutes to wrap up a perfect Melbourne trip. It was the second-longest Major final in tennis history, with both rivals giving their absolute best to cross the finish line first.
Medvedev was in a great position to claim the second Major trophy in a row, opening a 6-2, 7-6, 3-2, 40-0 lead and looking good to seal the deal in the following 20 minutes.
Rafael Nadal shared thoughts about an epic Australian Open final.
Instead, Nadal produced one of his most remarkable comebacks in a career, defending those three break points in the third set’s sixth game and playing well in the remaining games to claim it 6-4 and gain a massive boost.
The Spaniard played better in the fourth set to grab it and force a decider after four hours and 12 minutes of a grueling battle. Rafa built the advantage in the final set’s fifth game, and he barely stood up from the chair ahead of the next one that gathered numerous deuces and break chances for Daniil.
Nadal saved them and opened a 5-3 lead before Medvedev broke back to lock the result at 5-5. Nonetheless, the Spaniard claimed the last two games to seal the deal and secure the 21st Major crown and the second in Melbourne.
“I was devastated at the end. There was one situation in the fifth set. I thought it would be impossible to get out of the chair after the break and win the next game, even though I served. If I’m proud of one thing in my career, it’s that I have never left the tournament feeling that I did not give my everything. Playing below my best in every match is impossible to accept,” Rafael Nadal said.