Australian Open: Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal serve up a memorable ending

After the Djokovic drama, the opening slam of 2022 will be remembered for the tennis

Australian Open champions Ashleigh Barty and Rafael Nadal
Australian Open champions Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal
(Image credit: Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Even before a ball was served at Melbourne Park, this year’s Australian Open would have been one of the most dramatic grand slams in recent history. While the Novak Djokovic deportation saga dominated the headlines pre-tournament, the first major of 2022 will now be remembered for the performances by Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal.

Barty cemented her reputation as a “national hero” after becoming the first Australian player to win a singles title in 44 years, the BBC said. In the women’s final on Saturday the 25-year-old top seed fought back from 5-1 down in the second set to win 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) against American Danielle Collins.

Speaking in front of a partisan 12,000-strong crowd and a nation watching on, the now three-time grand slam champion said it was a “dream come true” to win her home major. “It’s been the most incredible experience of the last fortnight to probably play my best slam,” the world No.1 told WTA Insider.

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With Barty securing the women’s title, and local heroes Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis winning the men’s doubles, Tennis Australia “couldn’t have dreamt of a happier ending”, said the AFP news agency. And that was just on Saturday – there was more drama to come...

Finding the extra gear

Even without the visa saga, much of the talk in the build-up to the Australian Open was whether men’s world No.1 Djokovic could defend his crown and secure a record 21st grand slam title. But with the Serb not competing in Melbourne, it was one of his “big three” rivals who stepped up to make history.

Just a month-and-a-half ago there were doubts if Rafa Nadal would even be able to play elite tennis again because of a foot injury, let alone compete for another major. Two sets and a triple break point down against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final, Nadal’s hopes of winning the elusive 21st looked bleak.

However, the Spaniard “somehow found an extra gear when it mattered most” to win the third set, said the Daily Express. With “momentum” and the majority of the crowd on his side, Nadal went on to win the final two sets of an “epic” final which lasted five hours and 24 minutes.

Rivals hail Rafa

After completing the incredible comeback, the “sheer elation” on Nadal’s face “told its own story”, said Simon Cambers in The Guardian. The 35-year-old “is back as champion and for now, the most successful of the lot”.

Twenty-time grand slam champions Djokovic and Roger Federer both congratulated the Spaniard on his stunning win in Melbourne. “Amazing achievement,” said Djokovic. “Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”

Swiss star Federer hailed his “friend and great rival” Nadal for becoming the first man to win 21 slams. “A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches,” Federer said. “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.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.