Rafael Nadal rallied from down two sets to defeat Daniil Medvedev in an epic 5-hour, 24-minute Australian Open final. The win marked Nadal’s record 21st Grand Slam title, breaking a tie for the all-time lead in men’s tennis with fellow Big Three members, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Medvedev was the tournament favorite after Novak Djokovic was deported from the country, but the Russian was denied his own bit of history as he tried to be the first player to win the major event immediately following his first Slam title (2021 U.S. Open).
“Being honest, one-and-a-half months ago I didn’t know if I would be back on the tour playing tennis again, and today I am here in front of you with the trophy again,” said Nadal in his post-match interview.
Nadal has been dealing with a chronic foot injury and had played only two matches since July when he arrived in Australia. He also overcame a bout of COVID-19 last month. He is just the fourth man to win each of the four major tennis events at least two times. Nadal first won the Australian Open in 2009 but had lost his last four finals there.
Nadal, 35, now holds a 4-1 lead over Medvedev in their head-to-head matchups, including their nearly five-hour 2019 U.S. Open final. Nadal earned $2 million in prize money with the Aussie title, while Medvedev pocketed $1.1 million as runner-up. The Spaniard has career earnings of $127 million, third all time, while Medvedev ranks No. 17, with $23 million, including his Australian Open winnings. Djokovic leads at $155 million.
Medvedev, 25, looked like he had the match in hand in the third set sitting on three break points to go up 4-2, but Nadal battled back to win the game and eventually the set with the backing of an extremely pro-Nadal crowd. The 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win marked only the fourth time in Nadal’s long career he has come back from two sets down and the first time since 2007.
The men’s tennis universe has been dominated for most of the past two decades by the Big Three of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. They have captured 61 Grand Slam titles since Federer’s 2003 Wimbledon crown, including 16 of the past 17 Australian Opens. The rest of the ATP has combined for 13 Slam wins since then.
Their dominance has led to massive endorsement deals for all three. Federer’s endorsement portfolio is in a class by itself, generating more than $80 million annually, even when he plays only 13 matches, as in 2021. It is highlighted by his $30 million-a-year pact with Uniqlo. But Nadal and Djokovic can also earn as much as $30 million in a good year, including bonuses. Nadal’s career earnings from sponsors, appearances and prize money is $490 million, according to Sportico estimates.
Nadal’s biggest sponsor, Nike, which pays him roughly $10 million a year including bonuses, was quick to congratulate the record win with a 45-second tribute video on social media. Amstel, Babolat, Kia, Telefonica, Richard Mille, Mapfre, Cantabria Labs and Banco Santander are other Nadal sponsors. Richard Mille gets extra mileage in its endorsement, as Nadal wears his $1 million watch while playing, versus the typical player who waits until a match is over. Nadal ranked No. 92 in Sportico’s tally of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $26.5 million.
Medvedev was appearing in his fourth Grand Slam final, and a win Sunday might have signaled a changing of the guard. Last year, he became the first Top-2 player not named Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Andy Murray since 2005. He could have leapt over Djokovic next month as the ATP Tour’s No. 1 ranked player with a win over Nadal, and he is nine years younger than any of the Big Three.
Sponsors have flocked to the 6-foot-6 Russian, who is trilingual (Russian, English and French) and was inspired to take up tennis after watching countryman Marat Safin with the 2005 Australian Open. His $10 million in annual off-court earnings ranks fifth in men’s tennis behind the Big Three and Kei Nishikori.
Medvedev’s most valuable sponsorship, like almost every tennis player’s, is his apparel deal. In late 2020, Lacoste locked him up through 2026 with a five-year contract extension that industry insiders estimate is worth $25 to $30 million. Other partners include Technibre, Bovet, Tinkoff and HyperX.
Medvedev is the most accomplished of the next generation of stars and best-paid, but the Big Three is not ready to cede the stage just yet.