Rafael Nadal has said in Melbourne that he ‘doesn’t care much’ if his record 21st Grand Slam title has made him the best men’s tennis player in history, after moving ahead of his great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic with his Australian Open win on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Spaniard came back from two sets down to defeat Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev in the final in Melbourne in what he called ‘the biggest comeback of my career’.
Nadal suffered a foot injury last year, pulling out of Wimbledon and the Olympic Games, and which left him wondering if he would even play again. But his thrilling victory on Sunday has propelled him into the history books, leaving Federer and Djokovic trailing on 20 major crowns.
Federer was absent from Melbourne because of injury and the Covid-unvaccinated Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament after Australia cancelled his visa.
But speaking to the media after his victory in Melbourne, Nadal said that he does not intend to dwell for too long on the wider significance, even though he added, ‘I know it’s a special number, 21’.
‘I feel honoured, I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career,’ Nadal told reporters early on Monday morning. ‘I don’t care much if I am the one or not the one, or the best of the history, not the best of the history. Honestly today I don’t care much. For me it’s about enjoying nights like today. That means everything for me.’
Nadal’s second Australian Open title came 13 years after his first one, after he showed remarkable resilience against the younger Medvedev, who was seen as the favourite in the absence of the defending champion Djokovic.
Nadal called the gruelling 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win ‘a very emotional night’.
It was even more so because of his foot injury and having also been ‘very sick’ with Covid after testing positive in December, he said.
‘For the last six months, I really fought a lot to try to be back on court,’ said Nadal. ‘Have been very, very tough moments … conversations, tough ones, because you don’t know if I was going to have the chance to be back on the tour.’
Nadal also said he wanted to celebrate more at the end, but just did not have it in him. ‘Even now I am destroyed, honestly, physically,’ he said.
‘I can’t think much, I can’t remember a lot of moments of the match,’ added Nadal, who was so exhausted afterwards that he took a seat during the post-match announcements.
‘The support of the crowd have been just huge. I got very emotional during the whole match. Even if I was super tired, I couldn’t celebrate with them as usual, but I feel it inside, all the support helped me a lot during the whole match.’