Rafael Nadal has surprised the tennis world with a show of emotion where he tried to hide tears at the end of his semi-final.
Rafael Nadal has surprised the tennis world with an uncharacteristic display of emotion following his thrilling semi-final win over Matteo Berrettini on Friday evening.
Nadal is through to his sixth Australian Open final and can re-write all the record books if he can win a 21st career grand slam in Sunday’s final.
It was a lot for Nadal to absorb in the moments following the rollercoaster 6-2 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory and he was seen holding his head in his hands and buried his face into his kit bag before walking out onto court for his post-match interview with Jim Courier.
Nadal will play his 29th grand slam final on Sunday — but his emotions on Friday showed this one will be different.
He said the main reason for his rich feelings was news he received at the end of the 2021 ATP Tour that a lingering foot injury could stop him from ever playing again.
He skipped the second half of the 2021 tour and missed the Olympics, Wimbledon and the US Open.
His return to the court in Australia has been something close to a fairytale.
“To be where I am today and to be back in the final it means a lot to me,” he said.
“One month and a half ago I didn’t know if I would be able to play tennis. So it doesn’t matter to me whether it was outdoors or indoors today. I just wanted to enjoy it.”
His emotions did not go unnoticed.
He said in his post-match press conference he even thought that the 2022 Australian Open “was a chance to say goodbye” as a result of the injury.
It will also mean so much more as he sees the finish line of his career approaching.
Nadal’s victory has created several pieces of history, including him becoming the fourth oldest male player in history to play in the final of a grand slam.
It is his sixth Australian Open final, but he is still chasing his second title at Melbourne Park — an achievement that would make him just the fourth player ever to win all four grand slams two times.
The Spaniard is now just one win away from skipping ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic — and from winning his first Australian Open crown since 2009.
He blew Berrettini off the court in the opening two sets, but the match was inexplicably turned on its head in the third set.
Earlier, Nadal had been playing with Berrettini at times, picking him apart with ease.
One moment early in the second set summed it up with Nadal peppering Berrettini’s backhand, eventually forcing an error.
Nadal simply refused to hit it to Berrettini’s forehand, relying with supreme confidence that his opponent would commit the first error.
Nadal was twisting the screws like all the greats know how.
Nadal’s red hot form, coming off a five-set marathon, left commentators stunned.
“That backhand point was the full on meanest thing Rafa has ever done,” WTA Tour expert Courtney Nguyen posted on Twitter.
Tennis journalist Jose Morgado wrote the match had turned into a “nightmare” for Berrettini, who looked flat and defeated early in the second set.
However, Berrettini flipped the match on its head in the third set when he pounced to secure his first break of serve before serving it out 6-3. Berrettini had not had a single break point opportunity in the match before he struck at 4-3 in the third set.
Jim Courier in TV commentary put the dramatic change down to Nadal playing more defensively and Berrettini finally finding his forehand weapon.
He said he “can’t quite figure out” why Nadal had decided to retreat further behind the baseline when returning Berrettini’s serve from the start of the third set.
“This is not basketball and the player has to figure it out themselves,” he said on Channel 9.
“Historically, Nadal has been a major problem solver. It is weird that he is creating a problem for himself here.”
Nadal made the crucial tactical move mid-way through the fourth set when he retreated even further behind the baseline when returning Berrettini’s serve.
Berrettini had won more than 20 consecutive points on his serve at that point — and Nadal’s move ended up being a stroke of genius.
Courier applauded the move and said it had “rattled” Berrettini.
From that moment on, Berrettini’s first serve percentage dropped and Nadal pounced to secure the break of serve at 4-3.
It was a service game of huge drama as Berrettini defended two break points before he was ultimately made to pay the price for his first serve and forehand both deserting him when it mattered most.
Nadal, however, came up with the goods precisely when he needed to.