Despite a great rivalry on the court, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have always respected each other. Novak matched Rafa's 20 Major titles following an incredible run in 2021, and the Spaniard reached the top again after conquering the Australian Open a few weeks ago.
Praising Nadal, Djokovic honored his incredible Melbourne run, reminding Rafa was on crutches in September before overcoming all the issues to claim another Major crown. Nadal did not know what to expect during the Aussie swing at the beginning of the season.
Rafa had a rough 2021 season, winning two ATP titles on clay and failing to reach a Major final. Struggling with injuries, the Spaniard played only 29 matches last year and missed all the action after Washington in early August due to a left foot injury.
In September, Rafa underwent a minor procedure and returned to the practice court at home in Mallorca. Hoping to get ready for the new season, Nadal played two matches at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in December, losing to Andy Murray and Denis Shapovalov before returning home for more practice.
Meanwhile, Rafa tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival in Spain and spent a couple of days at home before firing the engines again. With not much time left to decide on the Melbourne trip, Nadal opted to start the season as it was planned and test his physical shape Down Under.
Not knowing what to expect, Rafa signed to play the ATP 250 event in Melbourne and defeated three rivals to lift the first ATP trophy since May last year.
Novak Djokovic praised Rafael Nadal following the Spaniard's 21st Major.
Nadal's A-game was not there, but his confidence raised ahead of the Australian Open, as he felt good on the court.
Hoping for more at the Australian Open, the 2009 champion stopped the clock to beat six opponents and find himself in the sixth Australian Open final. Eager to avoid the fifth consecutive loss in the Melbourne Park title matches, Nadal earned a 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory over world no.
2 Daniil Medvedev in five hours and 24 minutes! The Spaniard prevailed in the second-longest Major final after losing the opening two sets and trailing 3-2, 40-0 in the third. Battling hard, Rafa endured obstacles and secured one of his most incredible comebacks ever to celebrate the record-breaking 21st Major title.
"I tried not to watch the Australian Open final. Everyone at my home was watching it, and I had to follow it from time to time. I have to congratulate Rafa. He is a fantastic fighter, and this is one of his most significant victories in a career.
He was on crutches four or five months ago, and he is now a Major champion. Tons of respect for Rafa, and I do not want to take anything away from him," Novak Djokovic said.