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Friday, May 20, 2022
Home Sports Rafael Nadal's Aussie Open title is emphatically asterisk free

Rafael Nadal’s Aussie Open title is emphatically asterisk free


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Rafael Nadal broke the Grand Slam record of all time on Sunday with his victory over Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open. However, the performance itself pales in comparison to the way he ensured it.

Rafael Nadal stared with his hollow-cheeked face drenched in sweat in the abyss of the all-too-familiar anxiety of the Australian Open’s disappointment, saying: “Not again. Not this time. ”

And so it was that a rusty, COVID-recovering, 35-year-old veteran made the most exciting return in tennis history on Sunday in Melbourne. It was a victory that was so inspiring that it immediately exceeded the tennis bubble. It represents the gold standard of all that good sports have to offer: the resilience of the human spirit, the power of determination, and… yes… the excitement of watching the most unlikely series of events unfold before your eyes.

And all this at a tournament that was just shattered just over two weeks ago.

There was controversy, you see. Through no fault of Nadal’s, Novak Djokovic divided his time between a detention center and courtrooms the week before the Australian Open. The reason? Australia’s visa requirements for COVID vaccination and Djokovic’s lack of one. The end result was deportation for Djokovic and a gaping hole in the Oz Open draw.

With horror, more than one tennis expert declared that if Nadal wins the event, the victory will come with an asterisk. Here is the tribune’s own Ricky Dimon summarizing the statements of ESPN commentator Cliff Drysdale about the Djokovic deportation:

An asterisk. A little note to indicate that Nadal did not * really * win, because how can it possibly count if he does not have to beat Djokovic? How, indeed.

Sure, Sunday’s final will never be called the best tennis match of all time. There was just too much diabolically bad tennis in the first 3 sets to get within spitting distance of any of a dozen or so brilliant matches in the Open Era. But for all that, it may still be the greatest victory of all time. What Nadal managed from two sets and a 0-40 hole at 2-3 in the third is an almost novel-like story arc (Netflix documentary, I Watch You).

Nadal deleted. He clawed and fought. He realized that putting his forehead against the fearsome Medvedev backhand would give him a quick trip to the locker room. So he digs tricks in his pocket, and deep down in the dustiest corner he gets a else backhand, a firearm of a stroke marked with the label “there is no way I can sustain it for an entire match” and then abandoned years ago. He wiped off the cobwebs, gave them a little sniff, and released them at the Medvedev forehand. He took the third set and gave himself a lifeline.

Medvedev took his own turn to play poorly in the fourth. The Russian had lead bones; the slight desperation born of fatigue (and probably panic over the game slipping away from him) made him look for winners too early and seemed to jeopardize his ability to play tactics. To the delight of the wildly pro-Nadal crowd, it was the 35-year-old who scurried around the baseline like an extraordinarily muscular forest creature enjoying his first spring in the woods. It was, in a word, magic – a special Nadal trademark of magic of the look-this-I-can-ignore-my-screaming-joints-better-than-you-son-of-kind.

Enter set five.

To literally take the third and fourth sets out of nowhere was certainly impressive. But by far the most notable thing about an already notable match was the way he absorbed the horror of dropping the service to 5-4 while serving for the championship, giving his hard-earned break back to Medvedev. His Aussie Open devils have already scored twice by squandering a breakaway lead in the fifth and losing the match. The crowd thought so, I thought so … and Nadal definitely thought of it.

As he revealed in an interview with Eurosport, “After that (which was broken in the fifth set), I said, ‘F ** k, one more break in the fifth and I’m going to lose again, as in 2012, like in 2017. But I said, “Okay. I lost (the break). I was nervous, I’m making a double mistake, I’m making a mistake. So I have to keep fighting, right? can lose the game or he can beat me, but I can not give up, no? Even if I am destroyed, I must remain spiritually (in it). ‘ And that’s what I did. ”

As if it were just that simple – as if her hopes had not been shattered twice before in that exact court in the EXACTLY way. And yet he immediately returned in Medvedev’s service match at 5-5 and broke the Russian again … and at half-time the opportunity to serve for the championship. Again. Which he did flawlessly.

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev

If this is not one of the most effective “you can all be quiet now” messages of all time, I do not know what is. No one with any form of credibility would dare to dismiss this victory as anything other than the miracle it was.

Djokovic could not compete, and it’s a shame for him and the tournament … but what Nadal did – defeating the reigning US Open champion (something Djokovic could NOT do) for no. 21, for the double career Grand Slam –is so extraordinary that a talk show that “did not count” is actually an embarrassment. So let’s not.

It’s tennis, people. And it’s delicious.





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