'No disrespect to Djokovic...' – Rafael Nadal right back in GOAT race, claim Tim Henman and Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander was among those to write off Rafael Nadal. "I have to say that I thought he lost the race when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semis of Roland Garros last year," said the seven-time Grand Slam champion in Eurosport's Cube. But the Spaniard, as he has throughout his career, refused to give up and secured arguably his finest title yet on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
'No disrespect to Djokovic but this is about Nadal' - Henman
Rafael Nadal has hauled himself back into the greatest of all time (GOAT) conversation alongside Novak Djokovic with his extraordinary Australian Open triumph, according to Eurosport experts Tim Henman and Mats Wilander.
The pre-tournament chatter was fixed on Djokovic as his bid for Grand Slam No. 21 was held up by a battle to compete unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Nadal touched down in Melbourne with the same objective, but with seemingly little hope after enduring an injury nightmare.
Djokovic was eventually deported on the eve of the tournament after a protracted case saw his initial visa cancelled despite a medical exemption, reapproved by a judge, then revoked again by the Australian immigration minister.
Highlights: Nadal wins Australian Open and claims 21st Grand Slam title
“No disrespect to Djokovic, this is about Nadal. Nadal hasn’t been in this conversation for so long because he’s been out injured,” Henman said in The Cube.
“We really didn’t understand or know how his foot is going to be and then he had Covid, he had more complications.
“So then to finally arrive in Melbourne having not played any tennis, he plays the first week of the year and you’re thinking, ‘OK, he’s getting some matches under his belt’ – but they were only best-of-three sets.
“He’s just built this momentum and for me the key word has been belief. We’ve all been questioning and doubting whether he could do it, but he’s the one that’s had the belief in his own ability.”
'I've never watched a match like that!' - Reaction to Nadal winning 21st Grand Slam title
The Spaniard had not played a competitive tournament in five months prior to touching down in Melbourne for the opening Grand Slam of 2022.
The chronic problem in his left foot ruled him out of Wimbledon, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and US Open. He said it got so bad that there were days he could only practise for 20 minutes.
Wilander admitted that he had written off Nadal’s chances of finishing his career with the most Grand Slams in the men’s game.
“I have to say that I thought he lost the race when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semis of Roland Garros last year,” he said.
“That was it, I thought: ‘Nadal is out of the race. He’s not going to be able. Maybe he wins another French, but most probably not, and he’s not going to win the other tournaments.’ And suddenly we’re here. It’s incredible.”
Nadal now leads Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time charts, with his two rivals both on 20 major titles. While Djokovic is expected to compete for more, Federer’s hopes to extend his collection appear much slimmer as he fights back from persistent injury.
The next Grand Slam is the French Open, which Nadal has won an astonishing 13 times. Nadal is also only the second man in the Open Era to win each major twice, joining Djokovic.
Watch historic moment Nadal wins Australian Open and claims 21st Grand Slam title
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