Rafael Nadal became the first male player to claim a 21st men’s singles Grand Slam title at the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne last month. The Spaniard had to come from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in the final, something that was unimaginable just a month prior with Nadal recovering from a long-term foot injury.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who are tied on 20 Grand Slam titles, had their opportunities to claim their 21st major title before Nadal at the 2019 Wimbledon and 2021 US Open respectively, but buckled under pressure. Carlos Moya, Nadal’s coach, feels the Spaniard held his nerves better than his two great rivals under tremendous pressure to claim the record.
Federer had his opportunity during the 2019 Wimbledon final when he had two match points against Djokovic. The Serbian would go on to save them, and claim the Wimbledon title 13-12 in the fifth set. Similarly, Djokovic’s opportunity came at the 2021 US Open, but pressure got the better of the world number one, who succumbed in straight sets to Medvedev.
“The incredible thing is how he took advantage of his opportunity,” Moya said, as quoted on EuroSport. “Roger [Federer] had two match points to win the 21st Grand Slam [at Wimbledon in 2019] and could not take them.”
“Novak was unable to withstand the pressure and played one of his worst matches in recent years in the final of the 2021 US Open,” he added. “But Rafa knew how to recover from a bad start and control his nerves, despite knowing that he was facing a great opportunity in his career.”
Nadal will have a chance to extend his lead over his “Big Three” at the French Open where the Spaniard will be the favourite to add to his 13 titles at Roland Garros. However, he is certain to face stiff competition from Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the semifinals in 2021 on his way to the title.
However, the Serb’s vaccination status could again play spoilsport and deny him a chance to defend his title in Paris. Moya feels Djokovic’s decision not to take the vaccine could hamper his career going forward, and is hoping the world number one changes his stance.
“I don’t think Djokovic is anti-vaccines, but he has always maintained his right to choose,” Moya said. “But now he finds himself in a difficult situation.”
“I don’t think Rafa’s win will have changed anything in his mind,” he added. “But it’s clear that if he doesn’t get vaccinated then he’s going to fall behind in the battle he has fought so long for.”