An Unexpected Melbourne Fortnight Leaves Nadal Playing For History

Rafael Nadal (photo: Mark Peterson / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 29, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

History will be on the line when Rafael Nadal walks out on Rod Laver Arena Sunday evening to face Daniil Medvedev in the men’s singles final of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Nadal, who defeated No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in Friday’s semifinal round, is one win away from capturing a record 21st career Grand Slam singles title. His opponent, the World No. 2 and second seed Medvedev, beat No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in four testy sets. Each has stared down the jaws of defeat during the past two weeks – Nadal was taken to the brink before beating Denis Shapovalov of Canada in five grueling sets, while Medvedev rallied from down two-sets-to-love to beat Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in five sets.

The World No. 5 Nadal showed quite an emotional reaction after his 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Berrettini. With the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena to keep the rain out, Nadal put himself in a position to play for Grand Slam No. 21 in his 29th major final by succeeding in his 36th major semifinal contest. The sixth-seeded Spaniard took care of winning the match in just a few minutes shy of three hours en route to reaching his sixth Australian Open title match. It was his 500th career hard-court match victory.

Now, Nadal, 35, will play Medvedev, who is 10 years his junior. In a contentious semifinal against Tsitsipas, the reigning US Open champion won 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two-and-a-half hours. It advanced Medvedev to Sunday’s title match and put him in a position to win his second straight major title following his New York success last September.

After Nadal’s triumph over Berrettini, the future Hall of Famer from Mallorca fought back tears as he accepted the plaudits of the Australian fans and tried to put things into perspective during his on-court interview with Jim Courier. He reflected on his journey to try to win his second Australian Open title after capturing his first one in 2009 over Roger Federer, when Medvedev was only 12-years-old. Since then, Nadal lost the 2012 final in Melbourne to Novak Djokovic that lasted five hours and 53 minutes, and lost another lengthy final to Federer in 2017 after leading 3-1 in the fifth set.

Last year, Nadal dealt with a nagging foot injury that forced him to shut down his 2021 season after losing in third round of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. He missed both Wimbledon and the US Open. Since coming back, he won an ATP 250 hard-court warm-up event in Melbourne. This happened shortly after he tested positive for COVID-19 after playing in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi.

What’s almost lost in the shuffle – with Federer not competing this year as he recovers from knee surgery and Djokovic, a record nine-time winner of the Australian Open absent and not playing because he was deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament after his visa was revoked by the federal government and his final appeal was rejected – is that Nadal has gone 9-0 to start the 2022 season. He’s lost none of the desire or hustle that has always made him one of the most remarkable players of his generation.

“A month and a half ago I didn’t know if I would be able to play tennis,” Nadal said. “So, it doesn’t matter, I just wanted to enjoy it and try my best. …

“Being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21, no?”

Nadal will play Medvedev for the first time on an outdoor hard court since their epic 2019 US Open final, which the Spaniard won 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted nearly five hours. The weather is expected to be clear allowing for the roof to be open.

“I am facing my most difficult rival of the whole tournament in the final,” Nadal said of Medvedev. And yet, as Nadal reaches the last match in his sixth Australian Open final – a most surprising fortnight for him – he said on Friday: “This is a success that is particularly emotional. It means so much to me, perhaps because it’s so unexpected.”

Croatia’s Marcinko win Australian Open junior girls’ title

No. 1 seed Petra Marcinko became the first Croatian to win the Australian Open girls’ singles title since Ana Konjuh in 2013, after defeating eighth-seeded Sofia Costoulas of Belgium, 7-5, 6-1, in an hour and 17 minutes Saturday afternoon on Rod Laver Arena.

Marcinko, who hit 22 winners and outpointed Costoulas 68-49, received a warm embrace at the net from her fallen opponent. Then, Marcinko faced the camera and smiled while making a heart gesture with her hands as she walked off the court with the biggest prize of her young career.

The 16-year-old World No. 1 Marcinko lifted her first Grand Slam trophy after becoming the fourth Croatian player to win the girls’ singles title in Melbourne. Showing an easy power in her groundstrokes from both wings, the victory improved her career junior Grand Slam record to 10-3 and overall junior record to 98-22.

By reaching the final, Marcinko became the first Croatian player, boy or girl, to reach a junior Grand Slam final since Jana Fett finished runner-up at the 2014 Australian Open.

Saturday’s Australian Open results

Sunday’s Australian Open order of play

Matteo Berrettini: Respect at the net

After their semifinal ended, Rafael Nadal and Matteo Berrettini shared a cordial chat at the net before walking off the court.

By the numbers

In playing Danielle Collins in Saturday’s Australian Open women’s singles final, Ashleigh Barty is facing an American opponent for the fourth match in a row. She’s 13-7 against American players at Grand Slam events, with one of those victories against Collins en route to the 2019 Roland Garros title.

“Quotable …”

“I love to have that feeling to reach the end of the tournament. It’s an event I particularly like, where I’ve had success. You come on the last day and you have always this adrenaline and pressure. Finals is to win. You don’t want to end up losing just on the very last step.”

Kristine Mladenovic of France, who teamed with Croatia’s Ivan Dodig to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title. It was her second Australian Open mixed doubles title and first since 2014, as well as her third Grand Slam mixed doubles title and 25th doubles title overall.