Ousted Australian Open favourite Novak Djokovic has paid tribute to Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard claimed a record 21st grand slam triumph in an epic comeback in Melbourne.
Djokovic, who was famously booted from Australia before the tournament in a now-infamous visa row, had been locked with Roger Federer and Nadal on 20 slam wins.
In a Twitter post, the Serbian world No.1 described his old foe’s comeback triumph over Daniil Medvedev on Sunday night as “amazing” while Swiss great Federer hailed him as “inspirational.”
“Congratulations to @RafaelNadal for 21st GS,” Djokovic posted on Twitter. “Amazing achievement. Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”
Djokovic also paid tribute to home favourite Ash Barty, who took the women’s title on Saturday night.
“There has been some outstanding tennis played at this year’s Australian Open and the finals were exceptional,” he wrote.
“Congratulations to Ash Barty for an amazing performance in front of her home crowd, and to Danielle Collins for an incredible tournament.”
He finished with praise for men’s runner-up Daniil Medvedev, who he beat in last year’s Australian Open final.
“[Medvedev] gave it his all out there and played with the passion and determination we have come to expect from him,” Djokovic said.
“You put up one hell of a fight today and I know you will have more grand slam wins in your future.”
Meanwhile, 40-year-old Federer, who also missed the Melbourne tournament – while recovering from knee surgery – had his own tribute for Nadal.
“What a match!” he wrote on social media.
“To my friend and great rival, Rafael Nadal. Heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 grand slam singles titles.
“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion.
“Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.
“I am proud to share this era with you and honoured to play a role in pushing you to achieve more. As you have done for me for the past 18 years.
“I am sure you have more achievements ahead but for now enjoy this one!”
Rod Laver, who watched the triumph in the stadium named after him at Melbourne Park, tweeted to Nadal that it had been his “privilege to watch you doing what you love”.
Three-time Australian Open champion Mats Wilander felt Nadal’s fightback from two sets down was the best comeback in the history of the Open era.
“Winning the 21st grand slam title, 35 years old, and he beats the best player in the world in Daniil Medvedev. It is indescribable and I do not know where he finds that strength,” he enthused on Eurosport.
Boris Becker, Djokovic’s former coach, made the pointed observation that Nadal might have to be considered more than just the “king of clay” because of his unreal 13 French Open triumphs.
“You make a mistake if you still call Rafa the clay court king,” the German great said.
“He has won on every surface and every grand slam tournament at least twice. He is the most successful player of all-time, we can say that loud and clear.”
Chris Evert described Nadal’s five-and-a-half hour defiant effort as “heroic”, while fellow women’s great Billie-Jean King saluted his “grit, guts, spirit and determination”.