Jan 31, 2022 - Sports

Rafael Nadal, alone at the top

Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the Australian Open

Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Rafael Nadal's pursuit of a record 21st major championship was on life support in Melbourne. Then he reminded the world what a champion looks like.

Match recap: Nadal, seeded sixth, rallied back from a two-set deficit to take down No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, in Sunday's epic final.

  • It was the second-longest Australian Open final ever (5:24), trailing only Nadal's 2012 loss to Novak Djokovic (5:53).
  • Nadal's second Aussie title comes 13 years after his first, ending a run of heartbreak in Melbourne. Think it means anything to him?

Why it matters: For the first time in his remarkable career, Rafa stands alone at the top, with more Grand Slam titles than any man in history.

  • "A month and a half ago, I didn't know if I'd be able to play on the tour again," said Nadal, who weighed retirement in 2021 due to a chronic foot injury.
  • "Without a doubt, [this has] been one of the most emotional months in my tennis career."
Table: Thomas Oide/Axios
Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

The big picture: Nadal (age 35), Djokovic (age 34) and Roger Federer (age 40) have won 61 of the past 74 Grand Slams — and 18 of the past 20.

  • Nadal now has the lead in majors, and his 28.9 million Instagram and Twitter followers are the most among the "Big Three," outpacing Federer (21.5M) and Djokovic (18.6M).
  • Nadal ranks third in prize money ($127M) behind Djokovic ($155M) and Federer ($127M), while Federer ($80M) laps them both in annual endorsements ($30M for Djokovic, $26.5M for Nadal).

Looking ahead: Nadal can extend his Grand Slam lead at the French Open in May, where he's won 13 times. Djokovic may not be able to play due to vaccination rules, and Federer (knee surgery) isn't expected back until the summer.

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