13 years later, Rafael Nadal has lifted the Norman Brookes Trophy again, remarkably eclipsing the longest gap between a first and second title at a major.
The record was previously held by Jimmy Connors, who won Wimbledon in 1974 and then once again in 1982.
The Spaniard became the first man to claim a historic 21st major title after coming back from the jaws of defeat to beat No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in the final of the Australian Open.
It marks the first time that Nadal has fought his way back to win from two sets down in a best-of-five contest since his win against Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2007.
“If we put everything together, the scenario, the momentum, what means. Yeah, without a doubt probably have been the biggest comeback of my tennis career,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference.
The victory sees Nadal become just the second man in the open era to win each slam at least twice; joining Novak Djokovic in the exclusive group.
“Of course, for me it's amazing to achieve another Grand Slam at this moment of my career. Just means a lot to me. Of course, I know it's a special number, 21,” Nada said.
Nadal’s title hopes were on life support after Medvedev cruised to a two sets to love lead. However, if we know anything about the Spaniard - it’s that he will as hard as anyone until the final ball. With the full support of Rod Laver Arena behind him, Nadal clawed his way back into the contest, eventually running over the top of Medvedev to claim victory in five hours and 24-minutes.
The Spaniard looked out of sorts early in the match, uncharacteristically hitting 16 unforced errors in the opening set. Nadal struggled to find any rhythm on his serve and it was beginning to look ugly as he dropped the opening set 2-6 in 42 minutes.
Nadal’s level lifted marginally in the second set and he had opportunities to level the match, leading 5-3. But as Nadal’s level lifted, so did Medvedev’s, and with that the Russian broke back to level the set and eventually force a tiebreaker.
The No. 2 seed‘s level lifted further in the tiebreaker and he went on to take it 7-5, moving within a set of what would have been his maiden Australian Open title.
At 2-3 [0-40] in the third set, Nadal faced three break points, which in the stadium felt very much like match points. “In that moment, of course, situation have been critical,” Nadal said.
This service game may have in fact been the catalyst for one of the most remarkable comebacks in his career. In epic fashion, the Spaniard fended off all three break points to eventually hold, levelling the set at 3-3.
“I just wanted to keep believing till the end. I just wanted to give me a chance. That's what I did. Just fight, just keep belief on trying to find a solution. Of course, I was lucky to save that moment,” Nadal explained.
As the tide of momentum began to turn in Nadal’s favour, the 20-time major champion harnessed all the energy from a boisterous Rod Laver Arena crowd, finally breaking Medvedev for a 5-4 lead. Nadal held serve to claim the third set 6-4, sending the match into a fourth set.
Medvedev began to slow down, and Nadal began to rise to the occasion, putting on display the reason why he is one of the greatest champions in the history of the sport. Nadal broke midway through the fourth set as Medvedev grew evidently frustrated at the crowd’s support of Nadal, and the Spaniard eventually went on to take the set 6-4, forcing an epic deciding set.
With the raucous crowd right behind him, Nadal broke early in the fifth set for a 3-2 lead and saved three break points in a game that extended to six deuces, eventually consolidating the break to move 4-2 ahead.
Medvedev held the following game to love, putting the pressure straight back on Nadal. The pressure was on, but this time Nadal held with more ease, moving within a game of the title, leading 5-3. Medvedev held quickly for 4-5, and then came another twist in the tale - the Russian kept the epic alive, breaking to level the fifth set at 5-5.
After holding his previous service games comfortably, it felt like Nadal may have blown his chance, but this time Medvedev was pushed deep behind the baseline, and eventually broken, to once again give Nadal an opportunity to serve for the championship. Nadal wasn’t going to be broken again. The Spaniard held to love to claim his 21st major title, in epic style.
“I feel honored. I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career. 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,” Nadal exclaimed.
“For me it's about enjoying nights like today. That means everything for me, no? Means even more to achieve the second Australian Open more than any other thing.”