Australian Open: Nadal still capable of the absurd after unlikeliest of grand slam titles

By Sports Desk January 30, 2022

Already shaping as the unlikeliest grand slam success of his illustrious career, Rafael Nadal ensured it was just that after an extraordinary Australian Open final.

And what a time to deliver it, clinching a record-breaking 21st major title by beating Daniil Medvedev, breaking his tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the most grand slams won by a man.

Nadal himself admitted reaching the final in Melbourne was unexpected, having ended his 2021 in August and doubted his career due to a persistent foot injury.

That injury is not going away, making the success even more remarkable. After five hours and 24 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, history was made as Nadal secured a 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory.

From two sets to love down against a man 10 years younger, wrapping up at 01:11 local time (14:11 GMT).

 

Nadal had only won the Australian Open once before, in 2009. Now, he is the only champion to have ever come from two sets to love down to win in an Australian Open final in the Open Era.

Not only was Nadal two sets to love down, he faced 0-40 in the sixth game of the third set. He was also staring down an in-form opponent as Medvedev aimed to become the first man to follow up his maiden major title with another grand slam at his next event. But, spurred on by a vocal and enthusiastic Rod Laver Arena crowd, Nadal found a way. He found another level, as he has throughout his career. In fairness, Medvedev took his game up a level, too, at least until some madness in the ninth game of the third set.

That concentration lapse had cost him one set, and Medvedev was unable to deal with an increasingly excited – and sometimes disrespectful – crowd in the fourth, as well as a surging Nadal.

As Sunday ticked into Monday with the deciding set underway, Nadal broke the Medvedev serve with a forehand winner down the line in the fifth game. Even the best get nervous, though, and he relinquished that advantage when serving for the title. Yet like a typical champion, Nadal responded instantly, breaking again before serving it out to love.

In sets one and two, Nadal had 21 winners and 36 unforced errors, turning that into 48 and 32 respectively in the final three.

For just the third time in his illustrious career, Nadal had completed a comeback from two sets to love down at a grand slam. And he has now won every grand slam at least twice, becoming just the second man in the Open Era to manage that, alongside Djokovic.

Such a moment had seemed unlikely just months ago, when Nadal and his team had doubts over whether he would ever return to the ATP Tour due to his foot injury.

Nadal says those doubts remain, but his start to 2022 suggests he is, as ever, a contender as long as he remains on the court. However unlikely, even if looking impossible, Nadal is still capable of the absurd.

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  • Liverpool and Rangers set for historic battle of Britain, Barca face Inter – Champions League in Opta numbers Liverpool and Rangers set for historic battle of Britain, Barca face Inter – Champions League in Opta numbers

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    Liverpool v Rangers

    This will be the first European meeting between Liverpool and the Glasgow giants in a European competition.

    The Gers have only won one of their seven away games in England, that being a 2-1 Champions League victory at Leeds United in November 1992 courtesy of goals from Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist. They have suffered six defeats and drawn twice.

    Liverpool's last meeting with Scottish opponents in the European Cup was back in the 1980-81 campaign, winning 5-0 on aggregate against Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen (1-0 away, 4-0 home). The Reds went on to win the competition that year.

    Jurgen Klopp's side have won 13 of their past 15 home Champions League group stage matches (D1 L1), scoring 36 goals in process. Their solitary defeat was against Atalanta in November 2020

    Rangers have failed to score in their two group games so far. Indeed, only Plzen (2) and Sevilla (3) have had fewer shots on target than the Scottish club (4) in this season's first two matchdays.

    Inter v Barcelona

    Inter have won just two of their 14 European matches against Barcelona (D4 L8), a 2-1 victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in January 1970 and 3-1 Champions League triumph in April 2010.

    Barca's two away wins against the Nerazzurri came 60 years apart, winning 4-2 in the Fairs Cup in September 1959 and 2-1 in the Champions League in December 2019.

    Inter have lost six UEFA Champions League matches against the Catalan giants, their most against a single opponent. Barca have only beaten Celtic (8) more times in the competition.

    Barca have lost three of their past four away Champions League group stage matches (W1), as many as in their previous 25 matches on their travels in the competition (W15 D7). Xavi is only the second manager to lose his first two away Champions League matches in charge of Barcelona, along with Louis van Gaal in 1997.

    Inter have lost their past two Champions League games at San Siro (0-2 v Liverpool and Bayern). Only once previously have they suffered three consecutive home defeats in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (a run of three between February-September 2011).

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    Bayern have won all four of their European matches against Plzen, beating them twice in the 1971-72 Cup Winners' Cup and the Champions League in 2013-14.

    Plzen's two away European matches against Bayern have seen them concede at least five goals on each occasion, losing 6-1 in September 1971 in the Cup Winners' Cup and 5-0 in the Champions League nine years ago.

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    Plzen have conceded seven goals in their two Champions League games this season and only kept one clean sheet in their 20 matches in the competition.

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    Ajax v Napoli

    Napoli have never won away from home in the Netherlands (D2 L3) in any European competition.

    Ajax have failed to win any of their past 11 home European matches against Italian opposition (D6 L5) since winning 2-1 against Roma in this competition in December 2002.

    Napoli will be looking to win their first three Champions League group stage games for the first time. They are unbeaten in eight matches in the group stage of the competition (W5 D3).

    Ajax have won their past four home games in the group stage of the Champions League, scoring four goals in each of the previous three (4-0 v Borussia Dortmund, 4-2 v Sporting CP and 4-0 v Rangers).

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    16 - Marseille have lost 16 of their past 17 Champions League matches (W1), failing to score in 11 matches in this run, including both games this season.

    Porto v Bayer Leverkusen

    7 - Porto have won seven of their eight home Champions League games against German opposition (D1), winning five in a row.

    2 - Leverkusen have only won two of their past 13 away matches in the Champions League (D5 L6), with three of the previous four ending in defeats without scoring.

    Club Brugge v Atletico Madrid

    3 - Brugge are unbeaten in all three home meetings with Atleti in European competition (W2 D1).

    7 - Atleti have never won a European match against a Belgium club in seven attempts (five away, two neutral). They have played more major European games on Belgian soil without winning than in any other country.

    Eintracht Frankfurt v Tottenham

    4 - Tottenham have lost their past four Champions League matches against German opposition by an aggregate score of 14-3, losing twice to Bayern Munich (2-7 and 1-3) and twice to RB Leipzig (0-1 and 0-3).

    3 - Eintracht have won three consecutive European games against English teams (one versus Arsenal, two v West Ham), as many as in their first 14.

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