AO 2022 Day 12: Nadal and Medvedev earn titanic clash

The men’s singles final gladiators battled their way into the Australian Open 2022 silverware showdown on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal / Demi-finale Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It couldn’t get much bigger than this.

On one side a pantheon of the sport is just one battle away from securing the men’s all-time record with 21 Grand Slam titles.

Over the net on Sunday night, the main disrupter to the ‘Big Three’ dominance will shoot for a second successive major and the No.1 ranking.

Clear your diary to tune in.

Tears flow for grateful Nadal

“It’s my personal DNA”

Rafael Nadal, despite five months on the sidelines with a chronic foot injury and conversations with his team over retirement, has defied logic, has defied his own expectations to roar into a sixth Australian Open final.

The 20-time major champion scored his 500th career hard court win 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to quell a stern test from Matteo Berrettini.

His 50th Grand Slam victory over a Top-10 opposition propels the 35-year-old into an unlikely 29th major final.

In the landscape of the all-time best debate, this is a monumental final, but for Nadal it’s simply gratitude to be back in the Melbourne finale.

“It’s a present, just be here and play tennis. I am taking now the things a little bit in a different way. Of course always with competitive spirit that I have, because I can't go against that,” admitted the world No.5, champion at Melbourne Park back in 2009.

“To have the chance to compete at this level, it's a positive energy for me to keep going, and being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21. That makes me more happy in terms of general life.”

The tears were flowing at the end of his pulsating performance on Friday night, exemplifying the effort the Spaniard has put in to return to the peak of his powers.

“I went through a lot of challenging moments, a lot of days of hard work without seeing a light there,” added the 35-year-old. “A lot of conversations with the team, with the family about what gonna happen if the things continue like this, thinking that maybe is a chance to say good-bye. That was not a lot of months ago.

“To be able to be where I am today, I really can't explain in words how important is for me in terms of energy, in terms of personal satisfaction, in terms of being very thankful for all the support that I received from the fans and especially from the people really close to me.”

Medvedev the disrupter again?

Nadal edged Medvedev in an absolute blockbuster 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in the 2019 US Open final.

A lot has happened between the confines of the Grand Slam tennis courts since then, the menacing Russian lifting his maiden major in New York last season.

Medvedev, off the back of sensational matches against Nick Kyrgios and Felix Auger-Aliassime, pulled off another masterclass in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old defied familiar foe Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, motoring through an exemplary fourth set.

Looking ahead to Sunday, the world No.2 might be 1-3 down on Nadal in their previous encounters, but was majestic in their most recent match at the 2020 ATP Finals in three compelling sets.

This time the gravitas of the occasion is even greater.

I'm gonna play again against one of the greatest. What's funny is that again, I'm gonna play someone going for the 21st Slam. I guess last time Rafa was watching that near the TV. I don't know who he was cheering for but I think Novak will be watching this one in two days also,” joked Medvedev, referring to his 2021 US Open triumph over Djokovic.

“Grand Slam finals are special and of course I remember that match with Rafa at the US Open. It was my first final and we played like five hours, close to it. We played two matches since then. I'm ready. I know that Rafa is a very strong player and I will need to show my best to try to win this match.

“But it's fun, when I was like eight, ten years old I was playing against the wall and I was imagining that it's Rafa on the other side, or Roger (Federer). Novak was still not yet there, I think.

“What I took from the three (major) 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 US Open. That's what I'm gonna try to do on Sunday.”

Daniil Medvedev / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Mladenovic in the major mix once again

There was a French flavour to celebrations at Melbourne Park as Kristina Mladenovic lifted the mixed doubles title alongside Croatian veteran Ivan Dodig.

The fifth seeds posted a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Australian wild cards Jaimee Fourlis and Jason Kubler as Mladenovic regained the title she won with Daniel Nestor back in 2014.

“It feels amazing to hold the trophy again. I was reading my name (on the trophy). Is always so prestigious to win titles like Grand Slams. As a kid that's what you dreaming of, what we're working for these days.,” said the 28-year-old, who has won eight majors across women’s and mixed doubles.

“It was very special for me. I didn't play mixed for a long time. For me, it was my sixth final in Melbourne, so I love to have that feeling to reach the end of the tournament. It's an event where I particularly like, where I had success. You come on the last day and you have always this adrenaline and pressure. Finals is to win. You don't want to end up losing just on the very last step. It's for sure very special to hold this trophy again.”

Ivan Dodig & Kristina Mladenovic / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT