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Analysis: Nadal steps up, takes control, and creates history

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Rafael Nadal’s enthrallingly unlikely five-set triumph over Daniil Medvedev in the AO 2022 men’s singles final was the perfect demonstration of the legendary Spaniard’s fighting spirit.

“I give it everything that I have inside, believe me,” said the 35-year-old, who trailed by two sets to love before recovering to win in a five-and-a-half-hour slugfest.

READ MORE: Nadal wins record 21st major singles title

“I am super, super tired in all ways. I even can't celebrate. But was the day to give everything, no? I enjoyed. I enjoyed the fight. I enjoyed the emotions.”

The victory delivered Nadal a 21st major singles title – more than any other man in history.

But while onlookers primarily focused on Nadal’s almost other-worldly competitive spirit when reflecting on the match, there were also measurable aspects to how Nadal staged this epic comeback.

Nadal’s game had appeared almost ineffectual against Medvedev in the opening set, and although he had multiple chances in the second set, the reigning US Open champion locked in and snatched it for what appeared an insurmountable lead.

That was especially so when the Russian moved ahead 2-3, 0-40 on Nadal’s serve in the third set.

But during that third set, and for the remainder of the match, Nadal was a player transformed.

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After landing less than 55 per cent of first serves in the opening two sets, he boosted that percentage to 82 in set three.

And while his winning rate on first-serve points hovered below 60 per cent in sets one and two, that number jumped to more than 70 per cent in sets three, four and five.

There was also a notable change in his court positioning.

After striking just 11 per cent of forehands inside the baseline in the opening set, and 17 per cent in the second set, that number rose significantly to 32 per cent in set three, and reached 35 per cent in set four.

Rafael Nadal lifted his serving statistics in the last three sets of the AO 2022 men's singles final. (Getty Images)

It was a similar story on his backhand; after connecting with just six per cent of shots on that wing in the first set, that number had tripled to 18 per cent in both sets four and five.

Medvedev did not appear to allow Nadal to take control of the baseline by losing power in his shots or dropping them shorter; the world No.2’s serve speeds, groundstroke speeds and ball depth remained fairly constant across the five sets.

Instead, this was evidence that Nadal – by elevating his serve and adopting a more aggressive stance – made the decision to take charge of the match in an effort to change its course.

What a comeback he produced to cap off an unforgettable fortnight of tennis at Australian Open 2022.