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Legend Rafael Nadal beats youngster Daniil Medvedev in Australian Open final

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The first major tennis tournament of the year, the Australian Open, is over, and it was historic.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's the miracle in Melbourne.

UNIDENTIFIER ANNOUNCER: 6-7, 6-4, 6-4...

SUMMERS: Rafael Nadal pulled off an epic comeback, beating Daniil Medvedev to become the men's singles champion. With this win, Nadal becomes the all-time leader in career Grand Slams with 21 titles, surpassing Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. They each have 20. Joining us now is Jonathan Scott, freelance tennis writer and former media contributor for Tennis Channel and Tennis magazine. Hello.

JONATHAN SCOTT: Good morning again, Juana.

SUMMERS: All right. So it sounds like it was a thrilling final in Melbourne. Is this a legacy-defining win for Nadal?

SCOTT: It absolutely is. He's long been the raging bull of Spain, of the island of Mallorca, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, where he's from. And he showed this again today. It may be a career-defining. It may be career-bookending. We'll see.

SUMMERS: I've got to ask you, does this win make him the best men's tennis player of all time now?

SCOTT: For the time being. You know, this is hotly contested on tennis Twitter and in general in the sports sphere. But he has 21 majors. And if you are basing it on Grand Slam singles titles, he is the best of all time or best at present.

SUMMERS: As you point out, this is hotly debated online. There are other top players right behind him. Will this record hold?

SCOTT: Yes. You know, Medvedev, his opponent in the final who he beat in the 2019 U.S. Open final, is actually ranked higher than him and was seeded higher than him in this tournament. Nadal was notably No. 6 coming into this event.

SUMMERS: Now, we did also see some incredible history yesterday in the women's final. Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian to win at home in 43 years. How big of an accomplishment is that for Barty?

SCOTT: Just huge - and for her country of Australia. Victoria, and Melbourne as a city, has had some of the most restrictive COVID protocols during the pandemic. And Ash Barty, to pull this off at age 25, now having reached and made a third major championship happen on three different services, is huge for her as a quarter-centurion.

SUMMERS: You mention those restrictive COVID protocols. Those restrictions made a lot of news, made a lot of people pay attention to the Australian Open before it even began. Now that this year's tournament is over, take stock. What do you make of it all?

SCOTT: You know, it ended up being a beautiful event, so kudos to Craig Tiley, the tournament director who actually used to coach tennis at the University of Illinois - men's tennis. But they really pulled it off. And Daniil and Rafael, in the final, on the microphone at the trophy presentation, also saluted him. There was a lot riding on this, and the Tennis Australia, Victorian state government and federal governments in Australia were not originally aligned on what the protocols would be and whether Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the world, would be let into the country. And so that became something of a situation, and he was holed up in a hotel while his case played out in the court.

SUMMERS: All right. So the Australian Open now over. It's January. Tell us what you're looking ahead to next in the world of tennis.

SCOTT: You know, in the course of Grand Slam tournaments, there are four over the course of the calendar year. And the next one will be in Paris, the French Open, in May, presumably pending COVID restrictions as well. Rafael Nadal has 21 majors - major titles, and he has won 13 of those in Paris. So that is the next thing to expect. And we'll see if Novak Djokovic can play there, pending his vaccination status and what France says can happen.

SUMMERS: OK. So we will look ahead to Paris coming up next for our next big tennis storylines. That was freelance tennis writer Jonathan Scott. Jonathan, thank you for bringing us all the news from that thrilling match in Melbourne. We really appreciate it.

SCOTT: Absolutely. Thank you again, Juana.

SUMMERS: All righty. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.