MELBOURNE, Australia — After Rafael Nadal’s stunning comeback in Sunday night’s Australian Open final, he, not Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, became the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles.
Fair or not, it’s the tennis record that matters most these days. While Sunday’s result doesn’t quite finish the debate over who the greatest male player of all time is (don’t forget Rod Laver), there is no doubt that Nadal is the greatest male clay court player of all time.
The French Open, played on red soil in Paris, starts on 22 May. Nadal has won 13 times and there is no man who has dominated any major tennis tournament.
Nadal’s fast-paced attack for his 22nd Grand Slam singles title wouldn’t come as a surprise, especially if Djokovic, the only man to beat him twice at Roland Garros, is unable to play at this year’s French Open as he is not vaccinated for the coronavirus.
The French government prohibits both French and foreign athletes from accessing gyms or attending events unless they have their vaccination cards. However, unvaccinated people can still obtain a valid pass if they have recently had a coronavirus infection.
For now, the exemption from vaccination is six months from the date of infection, but on February 15 the grace period will be reduced to four months. This means that Djokovic, who presented evidence of a positive test in Serbia on 16 December, will be eligible to compete in France without the vaccine by the end of April.
However, if case numbers or hospitalizations drop in the spring, the French government may change the rules about vaccine passes. result of french presidential election It may also affect health policy in April, and there is a possibility that French Open organizers will negotiate an exemption or extension for unvaccinated players, but there are very few unvaccinated round-level players. this stage.
It seems too early to remove 34-year-old Djokovic from Roland Garros. won the title last year. He beat Nadal there. semifinal That culminated boldly in the third set before Nadal faded due to chronic foot pain that caused him to miss most of the rest of the season, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.
“Look, if Novak comes back, we’re talking about Rafa and Novak entering France as joint favourites,” said ESPN analyst and head coach Darren Cahill. “Obviously you have to be able to beat Rafa on clay in five sets and we saw how difficult it was, but Novak has been pretty impressive there over the last few years.”
After watching the Australian Open from afar (and a congratulatory message To Nadal, who should have been placed in Djokovic’s draw).
Djokovic entry and is expected to play in the ATP tournament, which will start on February 21 in Dubai. But if he’s unvaccinated, he’ll need an exemption to fly to the United States to compete at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March. at the Miami Open. A prior coronavirus infection is not grounds for exemption, but people with “documented medical contraindications” to receive the vaccine may be given the vaccine. It is unclear whether this provision will apply to Djokovic, who also has a Serbian passport, or whether he is interested in traveling to the US in March.
But if Djokovic goes to Dubai, that will be a big clue that he is willing to compete, and a fired Djokovic will be a dangerous Djokovic, given the disappointment and humiliation he has experienced in Australia.
“I think Novak uses that to kindle the fire he plays all the time,” Cahill said. “I think he’s still looking to improve his game and I think we’re still going to see an incredible level from Novak over the next few years.”
Medvedev, who was in 2nd place, was preparing to become the best hard court player. He had already beaten Djokovic last year. US Open finalA loss that prevented Djokovic from completing the Grand Slam.
But Nadal’s victorySurprising and exciting, the 40-year-old could open up new perspectives for Djokovic and Federer, but could train for the possibility of one return after another later this year, perhaps in time for Wimbledon. 2021 knee surgery. It’s hard to see Federer as a favorite title anywhere, but why not as a factor on grass or hard courts?
“I think what Rafa did might also put some fuel in Roger’s tank,” Cahill said. “Roger said, ‘If Rafa is out and about doing this, if I’m healthy and still have a love for the game, why not me?’ he may say. I think that energizes the Big Three.”
Nadal should feel energized after reaffirming he’s on the decline. On Monday, she was walking cautiously through a Melbourne park without sleeping until 5 a.m. that morning, taking pictures with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
Considering how much Nadal enjoys a good fight, it wouldn’t be right to have a rout against Medvedev. He spoke of the joy of “suffering”. When he won his first Australian Open in five sets 2009“Maybe I like to fight to win more than to win,” he told a small group of us the next day, in his still improving English.
That promise still holds true, as Nadal is freed from the big tennis scourge 13 years later. While Nadal has done extraordinary things in his years on this earth (and clay), he had never rally from a two-set deficit to win a Grand Slam title.
His five-hour, 24-minute victory over Medvedev was one of Nadal’s trademark victories, where he defeated Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, which is featured on every shortlist of greatest matches.
“This Wimbledon were two athletes who played incredible tennis at the peak of their careers,” Cahill said. “This one was a little different because of the route Rafa took to get there and the history behind it.”
Nadal confirmed that the post-match emotions were stronger at the age of 35. Medvedev can take note of this. He was so depressed when he lost his lead and heard the crowd applaud his mistakes and roar for Nadal that he said he was disappointed with the sport and wouldn’t be able to play beyond the age of 30.
Australia vs Novak Djokovic
“After today, the dreamer is no longer with me,” Medvedev said. “When that happens, it will be harder to continue tennis.”
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the first Russian man to win a major singles title, said Medvedev “will get over it in 10 days” as frustration subsides.
But Medvedev certainly has a lot to learn not just from the final, but from Nadal, who unlike Medvedev has never ridiculed a crowd or humiliated a chair referee, both as Medvedev did in Melbourne.
Nadal earned his passionate fan base, which was even higher on Sunday for being an underdog. But the collective staying power of the Big Three should make it clear to Medvedev and other young players that there is life after round 30.
Nadal has not only won 13 French Opens – a record that will never be broken – but has also won four US Opens, two Wimbledons, two Olympic gold medals (one singles, one doubles), five Davis Cups and many other titles.
But Sunday’s victory was particularly delicious because it seemed unlikely until a few weeks ago. Even after Nadal’s surgery on September 11, his slowly improving foot condition left him feeling weak.
Nadal said his condition, which affected a small bone in his foot, would never be fully resolved, but said it didn’t bother him as he chased down Medvedev’s low shots in Melbourne and slapped forehand winners in the sprint.
“His tennis IQ is off the charts,” his coach Carlos Moya told French newspaper L’Équipe. “I don’t know if he’s the best player in the world, but he reads the game better than any of them.”
The message wasn’t lost on Nadal as the increasingly tired Medvedev tried to cut points with low shots and unusually risky tactics.
“I think that gave Rafa a lot of energy,” Cahill said. “Just stay there and keep pushing and pushing. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Now we know, and it was extraordinary.