Rafael Nadal shattered a 13-year-old Australian title spell with a victory over daring qualifier Maxime Cressy in the Melbourne Park Summer Set final.
Nadal overcame a surprisingly harsh test from the American on serve-volley, having to salvage a set point in the first tie-breaker before winning 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 in a Melbourne thriller Park Sunday evening.
Fittingly, the 89th title in the Spaniard’s powerful career arrived at Rod Laver Arena, the scene of Nadal’s greatest triumph on Australian soil more than a decade ago.
Nadal hadn’t clinched a Down Under title since Roger Federer’s conquest on the same pitch in an epic Australian Open final in 2009.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has since lost four other title champions in Melbourne – in 2012 and 2019 to Novak Djokovic, 2017 to Federer and 2014 to Stan Wawrinka.
“This court has been very, very special for me,” said Nadal.
“I have had incredible times here.
“The name of this court, Rod Laver Arena, is very, very special, I think, to everyone. I’ve been through a lot of emotions here.”
But the former world No.1 was forced to fight to extend his incredible record of winning at least one ATP title for 19 consecutive remarkable years.
Cressy, ranked 112th, had knocked out second seed Reilly Opelka and former world number 3 Grigor Dimitrov with his old-fashioned style to reach the final.
He persisted with his bold tactics against Nadal, rushing towards the net behind first and second serves throughout the game no matter what.
Cressy had the first set on his racquet but couldn’t get a first delivery on either point when he served 6-5 in the tiebreaker.
Typically, the ruthless Nadal made him pay, snatching the breaker to take a set lead.
Without being discouraged, the Parisian Cressy beat Nadal in the first match of the second set.
But there is no denying that the Spaniard, who has retreated twice to secure victory and a perfect start to 2022 after injuries and a heavy episode of COVID-19 last month, threatened to derail his record-breaking shot. 21st Grand Slam title this month.
“I feel privileged, a very lucky guy to be here again,” Nadal said.
“I’m coming back from a tough time in terms of injuries so I couldn’t be happier today.
“It means a lot to be back with a trophy in hand after all.”
Meanwhile, Gael Monfils will return to his longtime residence in the world’s top 20 after triumphantly opening 2022 at Adelaide International.
The French showman outscored Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-4 6-4 in Sunday night’s final at Memorial Drive to clinch the 11th title in an often underrated career.
Unlucky to play in the golden age of the sport’s Big Three, Monfils is unlikely to ever realize his grand slam potential with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic gobbling up 60 majors between them since 2003.
But the 35-year-old former world junior number one, who won the first three rounds of the junior grand slam in 2004 before Andy Murray collapsed at the US Open, still sets career standards.
Even though he had lost, Sunday’s clash with Khachanov marked an 18th consecutive year that Monfils had made an ATP final.
He celebrated it in style, beating Khachanov in straight sets to secure his rise from 21st to 17th in the standings on Monday.
With Federer, 16th, injured, this is enough for Monfils to win a very important ranking among the first 16 for the Australian Open from January 17th.
Monfils’ best result at Melbourne Park was a quarterfinal appearance in 2016.
In other tennis results, young players Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov piloted Canada to an emotional victory over Spain in the ATP Cup final in Sydney.
The Canadian team celebrated wildly after Auger-Aliassime tied with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut on Sunday night.
Shapovalov had previously put his country to a trophy victory with a 6-4 6-3 loss to Spain mainstay Pablo Carreno Busta in the crucial first rubber at Ken Rosewall Arena.