Victory over Daniil Medvedev would complete a remarkable chapter in Rafael Nadal's extraordinary career; he may be the outsider, but his reputation for defying the odds has only been enhanced by his run; Medvedev ruined Djokovic's dreams in New York so will he do the same against Nadal?
Sunday 30 January 2022 07:57, UK
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object when Rafael Nadal takes on Daniil Medvedev in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday.
Victory for Nadal at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2009 would make him the first man ever to win a 21st Grand Slam title, including a record 13 French Open crowns, and move him clear of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Nadal is the last of the trio to have a shot at 21, with Federer missing two match points against Djokovic in the Wimbledon final of 2019 before the Serbian had his chance at the US Open last year.
Djokovic was also bidding to become the first man since 1969 to complete the calendar Grand Slam but Medvedev stopped him, claiming his first major title in the process.
"It's a great rivalry," said the Russian. "I'm happy to have the chance to try to stop one more time somebody from making history.
"I know what Rafa is going for, I knew what Novak was going for. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, yeah, I am trying not to listen about this'. But it's kind of their thing, not mine. I'm just there to try to win the final.
"I'm going to play again against one of the greatest. What's funny is I'm going to play again against someone going for a 21st title. Grand slam finals are special. I'm ready."
Nadal has been the surprise package at this year's tournament, having returned from a career-threatening foot problem to reach his first major final since the French Open in 2020.
He missed chunks of the 2021 season, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open, while he has also suffered a difficult few days after contracting COVID-19 last month but despite the calamitous build-up to the season, he is unbeaten this year, including an important victory at the Melbourne Summer Set.
A second triumph at Melbourne Park would make him only the second man after Djokovic to win every Grand Slam title at least twice since the sport turned professional in 1968.
But unlike Djokovic, Nadal has always insisted he is not motivated by making history.
"I just feel happy to be part of this amazing era of tennis, sharing all these things with another two players," said the Spaniard, who will be playing in his sixth final at Melbourne Park.
"That's it. In some ways, it doesn't matter if somebody achieves one more or one less. We did amazing things and things that will be very difficult to equal. So I don't think much about this, all this stuff."
This is Nadal's 29th Grand Slam final and Medvedev's fourth. His first came against the Spaniard at the US Open in 2019, when he recovered from two sets down only to lose in a decider, while he was well beaten by Djokovic in Melbourne 12 months ago.
"It's really tough to get into the final, and I always have them there waiting for me," said Medvedev. "But it's fun. When I was eight, 10 years old, I was playing against the wall and I was imagining that it's Rafa on the other side, or Roger. Novak was still not yet there, I think.
"Now I have the chance to play (Nadal) a second time. First one was a close one, epic one. I'm going to try to prepare well, and I need to show my best, because that's what I took out of the three finals that I had before, that you have to do better than 100 per cent in order to win.
"That's what I managed to do in the US Open. That's what I'm going to try to do on Sunday."
Medvedev has been made to work very hard to make the final, from a second-round clash with Nick Kyrgios through a nail-biting quarter-final against Felix Auger-Aliassime where he saved a match point and then a fiery contest with Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday.
But there is no doubting the quality of tennis Medvedev is capable of producing on hard courts, as he has demonstrated over the past few years.
He is already the only man apart from Andy Murray in the Open era to follow up his first Grand Slam title by reaching the
final of the next major tournament.
Should he win the title, he would better Murray, who lost in the final at Melbourne Park in 2013.
Medvedev said: "I really don't have much pressure. I know what I'm capable of when I'm playing well. I know that I can beat anybody. At the same time, you can lose to anybody.
"I almost lost to Felix. He was really close. That's how tennis is. A lot of strong players. Already second round against Nick was a tight one.
"But it gave me a lot of confidence in my own power, in my own tennis, that now I know that I'm capable of winning seven matches in a row, and the last one against Novak was epic. So I knew before this tournament that it is possible. That's what's so far I'm trying to prove."