Roger Federer hailed his great rival Rafael Nadal as an “inspiration” and offered heartfelt congratulations after the Spaniard fought back from two sets down to win a record 21st grand slam title at the Australian Open.
A 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory for the 35-year-old over Daniil Medvedev occurred months after he had been pictured on crutches while he battled a chronic foot problem that left him contemplating retirement.
Fast forward to Melbourne Park on Sunday and following a classic played out over five hours and 24 minutes, which finally finished at 1.11am local time, Nadal moved clear of Federer and Novak Djokovic as the most successful male player in grand slam history.
“What a match. To my friend and great rival Rafael Nadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 grand slam singles titles,” Federer wrote on his Instagram story.
“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion. Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.
“I am proud to share this era with you and honoured to play a role in pushing you to achieve more, as you have done for me for the past 18 years. I am sure you have more achievements ahead but for now enjoy this one!”
Djokovic had denied Nadal in the 2012 final – the first of two finals between the pair in the event – which remains the longest in the history of the Melbourne Park tournament despite Sunday’s efforts.
While the Serbian was unable to defend the title he won in 2021 due to his visa being cancelled, he talked up the performance of the two finalists.
“Congratulations to Rafael Nadal for 21st GS. Amazing achievement,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter.
“Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time. Enhorabuena.
“Daniil Medvedev gave it his all out there and played with the passion and determination we have come to expect from him.”
Queensland-born Rod Laver, an 11-time grand slam winner, hailed the “Herculean” efforts of Nadal and runner-up Medvedev, who had won the most recent major at the US Open in September.
In recovering to clinch the match at the Rod Laver Arena, the two-time Australian Open winner was able to triumph from two sets down to win a match for the first time since he beat Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.
Laver said on Twitter: “A final of Herculean proportions, thank you for a brilliant contest Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev.
“Two Australian Open crowns and 21 majors, given everything you have endured this historic victory is so special Rafa. It has been a privilege to watch you doing what you love. Congratulations.”
Seven-time grand slam champion Mats Wilander lauded this success as one for the history books, saying on Eurosport: “To me this is the best comeback in the Open era.
“Winning the 21st grand slam title, 35 years old, being 36 when the French Open comes around and he beats the best player in the world in Daniil Medvedev – you would have to call him (that) after winning the US Open – it is indescribable and I do not know where he finds that strength.”
Wilander also backed Nadal to build on this at the next grand slam tournament in June at Roland Garros, a venue where he has won on 13 occasions.
He added: “Rafa came into the tournament with low expectations for him.
“Imagine winning 21 Slams and going to a place where you have won 13 times. This is going to be the best three or four months of his career coming up now.
“Being able to practice, be healthy and then going into the clay court season. He’s never been in the lead in that ‘greatest player of all time’.”