Rafael Nadal’s history-making Australian Open win: key questions

The GOAT debate and what comes next.

By Press Association Published: 31 January 2022 - 6.00am

Rafael Nadal wrote a new chapter in this extraordinary era of men’s tennis by becoming the first of the ‘big three’ to win a 21st grand slam singles title.

By beating Daniil Medvedev over five gruelling sets at the Australian Open, the Spaniard moved ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the top of the all-time list.

Here, the PA news agency answers the key questions around the triumph and what comes next.

How surprising was this?

Rafael Nadal shows his disbelief after winning the Australian Open title
Rafael Nadal shows his disbelief after winning the Australian Open title (Mark Baker/AP)

One look at Nadal’s face answered this question. He always has huge belief in himself but, after fearing a month and a half ago that a chronic foot problem might end his career, he certainly did not expect to be walking away with a title he had not won since 2009. That he did so from two sets down against a man who may soon be world number one made it all the more remarkable.

Is Nadal now the GOAT?

Men’s grand slam singles champions.
Men’s grand slam singles champions. Infographic PA Graphics. An editable version of this graphic is available if required. Please contact graphics@pamediagroup.com.

The greatest of all time debate has raged ever since first Nadal and then Djokovic began to close in on Federer’s records. The grand slam tally is seen as the most important one but it is far from the only metric, and the others mostly favour Djokovic. He is starting his 358th week on top of the rankings compared to 310 for Federer and 209 for Nadal. Djokovic has also won all the ATP Masters tournaments at least twice and leads both Nadal and Federer in head-to-head records. He is also a year younger than Nadal.

What difference did Djokovic’s absence make?

Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia
Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia (Darko Bandic/AP)

We will never know if Djokovic would have made it 10 titles in Melbourne had he not been deported – a sentence that still seems extraordinary to write. His record at the tournament, including two final victories over Nadal, would certainly have made him a big favourite.

What next for Nadal?

This incredible feat can surely only boost the 35-year-old for the season ahead and the years to come. He proved he can still physically match and better players a decade his junior and he will want to regain the French Open title from Djokovic and win a 14th crown in Paris. If he could reach 22 with the others still on 20, it would be a significant gap.

And how about Djokovic?

That will be the key question in tennis over the next few months. If restrictions stay the same and he continues to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, then he will find his options limited. As it stands, he is unlikely to be able to play the big ATP tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami as well as the French Open. There is a realistic scenario whereby Wimbledon is his next major tournament, although the situation could change significantly in the coming months. Federer, meanwhile, continues to recover from knee surgery.

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