In this glowing, gleaming Big 3 era of men’s tennis, one historic and unforgettable major championship is bound to recall other ones from the past. The 2022 Australian Open men’s tournament, won by Rafael Nadal over Daniil Medvedev, offers a natural and obvious parallel with 2017
It’s true that 2017 carries a parallel with 2022 on the women’s side as well. In 2017, Serena Williams — then the dominant figure in women’s tennis — won the championship in Melbourne. Ash Barty is the new dominant player in women’s tennis, and she lifted the trophy this year in Australia. Yet, the men’s tournament has the stronger parallel, since the details are more precise.
What do we know about Rafael Nadal’s 2022 Australian Open championship? Let’s make a list:
It came after a long injury layoff and a period of considerable uncertainty about physical health and full readiness for the grind of major-tournament tennis, at least in the early part of the year.
It came at age 35, as the climb toward older age made the process of capturing another title a very difficult journey.
It came in a five-set final at the end of a tough tournament which involved a five-setter earlier in the tournament (Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals) and put Nadal’s durability into question.
It came in a five-set final in which he trailed.
The enormity of Nadal’s triumph is remarkable and immeasurable in and of itself, but when you put all those other details together, the magnitude of the feat grows exponentially. Nadal didn’t just win another title and finally reach both the Double Slam and the 21-major mark; he did it under supremely taxing and difficult circumstances in which the odds were stacked against him at some points along the way.
Now take all of those details from 2022 and apply them to the 2017 Australian Open men’s tournament: Roger Federer’s 2017 title had all those same details.
He had a long injury layoff and profound uncertainties about his physical condition and staying power.
He was 35 years old.
He won in a 5-set final after playing a 5-setter earlier in the tournament, most recently against Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals.
Federer trailed in the final, down 3-1 in the fifth, before he made a rally most weren’t expecting (though Nadal’s rally against Medvedev was even more improbable.
If you are a sports betting expert or someone who knows the difference between a likely result and an improbable one, you know that Federer’s 2017 Australian Open title and Nadal’s 2022 championship were both improbable. Federer seemed toast when he was down 3-1 in the fifth against Rafa five years ago. Nadal seemed like a goner when Medvedev won the second-set tiebreak to grab a two-set lead after more than two full hours of tennis. The second set alone lasted almost 90 minutes.
Roger in 2017, Rafa in 2022. Two icons won Australian Opens at age 35 in 5-set finals after injuries and a lot of doubts about their futures in the sport.
It really is uncanny … and special … that two fabled champions made such similar journeys in Melbourne, five years apart.