Roger Federer has nothing but praise for his friend and constant competitor, Rafael Nadal, after the latter smashed a major tennis milestone with his Australian Open victory on Sunday.
Coming from behind to win the final after an epic, nearly 5 1/2-hour battle against Daniil Medvedev, Nadal broke the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles, with a historic 21 victories. Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic were previously all tied with 20 wins each.
Federer, who did not compete as he is recovering from knee surgery, posted a message to Nadal on his Instagram Story shortly after Rafa’s incredible win.
“What a match! To my friend and great rival, @rafaelnadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles,” the tennis great wrote, alongside a photo of Nadal celebrating his win.
“A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion,” he added, as both have battled injuries and illness in recent months.
“Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world,” Federer went on to say. “I am proud to share this era with you and honored to play a role in pushing you to achieve more, as you have done for me the past 18 years. I am sure you have more achievements ahead but for now enjoy this one.”
Djokovic, who was unable to play in the Australian Open because he chooses to remain unvaccinated, also congratulated Nadal in a message posted on Twitter.
“Amazing achievement,” he wrote. “Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time.”
Nadal, who has a chronic foot injury and recently overcame a bout of COVID-19, called the win “one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career.”
“For me, it’s just amazing. Being honest, one month and a half ago, I didn’t know if I’d be able to play on the tour again,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt, (it’s) probably been one of the most emotional months in my tennis career.”