Slam no.21: Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the Australian Open final in Melbourne. Image Credit: Reuters

Kolkata: There are defining moments in sport when words fail you - even if you are a wordsmith in this business for long. The five and-a-half hour epic final between Rafa Nadal and Daniil Medvedev in Melbourne, which went well past 1 am local time, will surely be up there as one of them.

The 35-year-old man from Mallorca in Spain showed, yet again, what it takes to beat the heaviest odds when Nadal finally wore down an opponent 10 years his younger to break that deadlock of 20 grand slams each between himself, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The former world No.1 and the king of claycourts now boasts of a tally of 21 slams - and the sheer entertainment and life lesson he provided this evening will make every fan want each of the ‘Big Three’ to continue for as long as their legs allowed them.

It was a strange Australian Open to begin with. With the world No.1 Serbian absent after being deported and Federer facing a huge question mark over his return, it was eventually left to Nadal to keep alive their legacy - something he did by digging deep on his physical reserves to underline the fact that we are fortunate to be living in the greatest era of men’s tennis in the Open era.


At the end of it all, Medvedev - the incredibly talented Russian who is being seen as a heir apparent to Djokovic - must have learnt his lesson that being implosive will certainly not help him if he wants to emulate any of these champions. Yes, he will regret missing out on a great chance this evening to add to the US Open he won last year after being two sets up, but champions - as Nadal showed - need to made of sterner stuff.

It was barely few months back in end-2021, when Nadal was on the brink of quitting after missing the US Open because of a condition in his left foot in the wake of missing the Wimbledon due to fatigue. The grind was certainly not easy on an ageing and bruised body - while a bout with Covid-19 in end-December was not quite the ideal preparation for a slam which had not been his favourite stomping ground.

The campaign was certainly not Nadal at his fluent best - the five-set sapping quarter final against Denis Shapovalov where he came back from the end, followed by yet another demanding four-setter against an in-form Matteo Berrettini must left him drained. Medvedev made a promising start in the first two sets, his variety of first serves meeting far greater success than Nadal while the gladiator kept looking for that window of opportunity to sneak his way back in the match.

It eventually came in Medvedev’s service game, with the third set tied at 4-4, and Nadal started looking ominous from there again. The final set saw Medvedev collecting himself and play some crafty tennis - only to agonisingly fall short in the end.

Nadal meanwhile joins Djokovic, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to win each Grand Slam title twice - but that’s for the statistically minded. For us, it’s yet another enduring example of not giving up - be in sport or in life...