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Rafael Nadal needs one more win to break the record he shares with Djokovic

Rafael Nadal will face world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the men's singles final at the Australian Open, with a chance to rewrite the record books.
Clive Brunskill
Getty Images
Rafael Nadal will face world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the men's singles final at the Australian Open, with a chance to rewrite the record books.

Rafael Nadal will play in the Australian Open final Sunday, with a chance to win his 21st Grand Slam. The feat would set him apart from Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who are currently tied with Nadal with 20 men's singles titles.

Nadal beat Matteo Berrettini on Friday to reach the final, where he'll face world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev — the runner-up in last year's Australian Open. Nadal says he's not dwelling on rewriting the record books.

"Being very honest, for me it's much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win [No.] 21," Nadal said after the match. "Because that makes me more happy, in terms of general life — to be able to do the thing that I like to do, more than achieving another Grand Slam."

Nadal says he's very happy simply to be able to compete against the world's best players again after facing a number of medical issues. While his knees have been a longtime concern, Nadal has recently been struggling to manage Müller-Weiss disease, a condition that causes chronic pain in bones in the middle of the foot.

In Melbourne, Nadal has said that in the past year, he considered the possibility that he might never play again.

"I went through a lot of challenging moments, a lot of days of hard work without seeing a light there, but still working and still receiving plenty of support from my team and from my family, too, without a doubt," Nadal said, according to the tournament website.

At 35, Nadal will be the fourth-oldest man to play in the Australian Open final in the Open Era. He owns one Australian Open singles title from 2009, out of five total appearances in this tournament's final.

Medvedev, 25, is coming off a 2021 campaign that ended with him winning the U.S. Open, his first Grand Slam title.

The Australian Open final could be decidedly partisan: while Nadal is a perennial fan favorite on the tour, Medvedev has repeatedly riled the fans at his matches in Australia.

Medvedev screamed in frustration during his long fourth-round meeting with Maxime Cressy, including yelling at the umpire. He later apologized for saying of the match, "This is so boring."

Medvedev then defeated the charismatic Aussie Nick Kyrgios — and said that fans who were screaming for their homeland hero "probably have a low IQ."

And on Wednesday, Medvedev drew a chorus of boos during a post-match interview on the court, when he said his strategy of toughing out a win came after he asked himself, "What would Novak do?"

After a dramatic and controversy-laden showdown, Djokovic was deported from Australia before he could play in the tournament due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.