Nadal overcame Matteo Berrettini in four sets to set up the Australian Open final against Daniil Medvedev. The Spaniard is just one win away from overtaking rivals Roger Federer and Djokovic by securing a record breaking 21st Grand Slam. Djokovic, who has won the last three Australian Opens, had been hotly tipped to break the Grand Slam record but the Serbian was dramatically deported from Australia on public interest grounds.
The world No 1, who is unvaccinated from Covid, had been granted a controversial vaccine exception before the tournament.
Yet upon arrival into Australia the Serbian was held by border force officials, before being subsequently deported from the country on the eve of the tournament.
Djokovic’s absence has left the door open for Nadal, who months ago had considered retirement, to claim the record-breaking Grand Slam.
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have dominated tennis for well over a decade.
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Though they have travelled the world competing against one another for years, Djokovic once revealed that it was difficult for the tennis stars to be friends, due to the intensity of their rivalry.
In a 2011 Daily Mail interview, Djokovic was full of praise for his rivals, saying: “I have only nice words to say about Rafa.
“He always wants to improve and you never see him disrespect another player.
“And Roger, well the results say everything.
He continued: “I think Roger, Rafa, Andy and myself have a very civil relationship, with a great respect for one another.
“Sometimes, I have dinner with Andy or Rafa, but the reality is none of us can be real mates while we are fighting for history.
“But one day, when we’ve all retired, I look forward to sitting down over a beer with them all, and their families, and remember what we went through.”
There had been questions over Nadal’s fitness going into this tournament after the Spaniard struggled with a long-term foot injury and a bout of coronavirus last year.
Yet Nadal appeared fresh and in control in his semi-final against Berrettini, despite having suffered through a five-set thriller against Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals.
The 35-year-old, on the verge of history, quelled talk of a record Grand Slam and said he was just focused on winning the Australian Open.
Nadal, who’s only won the title once in his career, said: “For me it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else.
“It’s just an amazing event that, as I said a couple of days ago, I had been a little bit unlucky with some injuries.
“There were times I played amazing finals with good chances ‒ against Novak in 2012, against Roger in 2017 ‒ I was close a couple of times.
“I feel very lucky that I won it once in my career in 2009 but I never thought about another chance in 2022.”