Four months ago, Rafael Nadal was limping around on crutches following foot surgery that clouded his future in tennis.
Today, he is the Australian Open champion, his record 21st Grand Slam title, and eying the French Open, an event he has dominated, for No. 22.
That’s a pretty remarkable turnaround and he pulled it off with a pretty remarkable victory over Daniil Medvedev, who is beginning to believe he is playing with a black cloud hanging over his head.
Nadal was trailing in the championship match, down two sets and facing triple break point in the third set at Melbourne. At 35, and with a still sore post-surgery foot, it was the deepest hole he had ever faced in a Slam event.
But as that great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once observed, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.’’ And this match was not over.
Nadal crept back into it, point by point and when it ended after 5 hours, 24 minutes, he had prevailed, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. It was the second longest men’s Grand Slam final in tennis history. And by the time it ended, Medvedev was bickering with the chair umpire, taunting the crowd and generally wondering what happened.
Back in September, when Nadal had his surgery, Medvedev ended Novak Djokovic’s bid for Grand Slam sweep, beating the world’s No. 1 player for the U.S. Open championship. Then, with the top spot on his radar and Nadal struggling, Medvedev folded.
The crowd was caught up in the drama of Nadal’s comeback and cheered him on every serve and every return, further annoying Medvedev, who saw the No. 1 ranking slipping away, point by point.
Win the match and he becomes No. 1. Lose it and he does not. He did not.
Medvedev was disgusted with himself after the match but he has been down this road before, chasing others at the top. He can still accumulate enough points in other events this month to move up.
Djokovic remains No. 1 for the moment. He also remains unvaccinated which clouds his prospects for other events, including, most importantly, the French Open in May.
Nadal has won that tournament 13 times. He flourishes on the red clay courts of Roland Garros and by the time that event comes up, he will have three more months for his foot to heal.
One wonders how long it will take Medvedev to heal.