Tennis legends salute Nadal …becomes first man to reach 21 Grand Slam titles

It really seemed like the unlikeliest of victories, especially when Rafael Nadal was staring down a 0-40 deficit at 2-3 in the third set after dropping the opening two sets to Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final on Sunday.

The infamous “win predictor” showed up on screen and gave the Spaniard a four per cent chance of defeating Medvedev.

But Nadal did what he does best; he defied the odds and pulled off an astonishing comeback to overcome the world No. 2 in a five-hour 24-minute contest that earned him a men’s all-time record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title, just two months after he was contemplating retirement due to a chronic foot injury.

Tributes poured in as the 35-year-old lifted his second Australian Open trophy – his first since 2009.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the two men Nadal has now surpassed in the race for Grand Slam supremacy, posted congratulatory messages on social media.

“A few months ago, we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion. You incredible worth ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world,” said Federer, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since Wimbledon last year.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, described Nadal’s victory as an “amazing achievement. Always impressive; fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea posted, “I LOVE tennis”, during the match, while Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos tweeted: “Rafael Nadal. That’s the tweet.”

Formula One driver George Russell posted: “Wow Rafael Nadal. What an athlete! What a player! Congrats on 21.”

WTA players Daria Kasatkina and Alize Cornet both tweeted that they were crying, “you are my idol, Rafael Nadal”, added the latter; while two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova wrote: “Rafa, your spirit and fight has no limit. You are a true inspiration to us all. Thank you for teaching us what it means to never give up. Enjoy #21.”

The legendary Chris Evert said she had “tremendous respect” for Nadal’s “heroic effort” while Jessica Pegula wrote that she believed the Mallorcan is “the best competitor in sports in my opinion.” – Eurosport

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