Where do we start? If you’re a tennis fan and have watched the 5 hour 24 minutes blockbuster Australian Open 2022 Men’s singles Final, you would be still reeling under some sort of elation, part relief, part reverence like I do to one of the finest comebacks ever on a tennis court. Touted as match up between a 35 year old Spanish Raging Bull (Rafael Nadal) against 25 year old The Russian Evil Genius (Daniil Medvedev), odds were stacked against Rafael Nadal leading up to the final, more so after an hour of play in the first two sets of the final. Pre match, the win predictor favored Danil 64% over Rafa 36%. Midway through the match in the 3rd set, the AI predictor with all its learning from historic data; its permutations and combinations, favored Danill 96% over Rafa 4%. And Rafa with all his determination and resilience, fought and won against all odds in one of the dramatic comebacks which seemed unreal even for a sophisticated AI system.
Lets be honest, Daniil was the favorite to win. After Novak Djokovic’s dramatic ouster from Australia for failing a vaccination clause, he was the best hard court player on tour. Hard court is usually least preferable surface for Rafa’s game plan and his chances. More so, he was making a comeback after a 7 month gap from a career threatening injury. For God’s sake, Rafa was using crutches due to a foot injury, suffered from Covid delaying his recovery big time. He was not sure whether he was competing in the slam two months back. Just before the match started, someone on my Twitter timeline asked what is your prediction? I casually said result in favor of Rafa in 4 sets, and if Daniil wins say first 2 sets, then Rafa would give his all and win next 2 sets to take the match to 5th set. Even though it would end up as a 5 set thriller, never thought Rafa would endure like he always does and have a belief to compete until last point is scored. A master class and a triumph of his endurance, his resilience, tenacity & his belief which is a inspiration for many.
Rafa first won in Rod Laver arena in 2009 against his arch rival Roger Federer moving him to tears after a hard fought final. In 2012, he competed and lost against Novak Djokovic in a 5 hour 53 minutes slugfest. Both were deserving given the kind of tennis quality they played for close to 6 hours straight, such was their endurance during the course of the match, that during presentation both couldn’t stand straight and had to take a support of a chair to sit during the felicitation. It was unreal tennis, longest tennis match played in Open Era, the result was cruel and kind of unfair to Rafa. In 2014, Rafa had to concede against Stan Wawrinka due to a back injury during the course of the final. He was unlucky on the day of the final after doing lot of hard work to reach the finals. In 2017, a mouth watering clash ended with Roger Federer finding his mojo in the 5th set decider after trailing some games initially. Roger was 35 back then and it was one of my favorite match featuring these champions, a visual treat. So, it was only fitting that he won the historic 21st slam in the Australian Open the way he did it the way he does best, fighting till the end.
If you dissect yesterday’s match, well what can one say- it has a perfect storyline where the hero triumphs against (the odds) in the end. If you think about a typical storyline and divide it into acts: Act 1- Exposition with inciting moments(pre-match, odds and the buzz), Act 2- Complication (losing first 2 sets), Act 3- Turning point(turnaround after Rafa was 2 sets, 2-3 0-40 down in 3rd set), Act 4- Falling action(role reversal; comeback- winning 3rd and 4th set), Act 5- Resolution and Catharsis where he wins the decider 7-5 leading to a frenzy of emotions. Best comebacks ever if there was one.
Now the debate moves on to who is the Greatest of All Times, the G.O.A.T, now that Rafa has taken a lead with 21 slams leaving behind Federer and Novak on 20. What do you think? If you ask me, World No. 1 Novak would go on to win more slams than anybody else and Roger with all his elegance, his passion for the game and pure artistry may never win again, but the kind of awe, Rafa brings to the table by his endurance, his fighting spirit, his humility in spite of his great achievements, his respect for the game and his opponents and in turn commanding our respect, he to me is the G.O.A.T
P.S: In last 20 years, starting from 2003 AO until 2022 AO, Roger, Rafa and Novak together has won 80% of the slams(61 out of 76 slams). Isn’t that astounding? Aren’t we lucky to witness this, in this golden era of tennis history? After all, when these guys compete against each other, its tennis which ultimately wins. Have to confess, I spent considerable amount of time debating in my mind, who I would pick among Roger and Rafa as my 🐐, ended up picking Rafa for the reasons stated above. Though, over the years whenever these 2 champions have competed at the biggest stage, I generally do not root for any one player as its easier to enjoy and appreciate the way they compete and set the bar high in turn raising the quality of the game itself.
Signing off, until next time, Be Resilient and Have Belief in your Game!!