(CNN)Rafael Nadal clinched a record-breaking 21st grand slam title after beating Daniil Medvedev 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 in an Australian Open final for the ages.
The Spaniard surpassed the previous men's record of 20 he held jointly with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the latter of whom was denied entry into the country after having his visa revoked.
There had been major doubts about whether or not Nadal would even be fit enough to play at the Australian Open after missing the second half of 2021 with a foot injury.
However, he returned to action at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament at the beginning of January, going on to win his first ATP title since May 2021.
After beating Matteo Berrettini in the Australian Open semifinal, Nadal said he was just happy to be back on the court after being beset by injuries.
As he sank to the floor, exhausted but victorious after five-and-a-half enthralling hours, Nadal proved he was not only fit enough to still compete at grand slams, but could realistically still win several more.
"It has been one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career and to share the court with you [Medvedev] was an honor," Nadal said in his on court interview. "I don't even know what to say, guys, for me it's just amazing.
"I can't thank enough all the guys that are there [in my box], all the team, family ... just how hard the last year and half has been and in the low moments you have been there to support me and without you guys none of this would be possible.
"Being honest, one and a half months ago I didn't know if I would be back on the tour playing tennis again and today I am here in front of you with the trophy again," he said after Sunday's final. "You don't know how much I fought to be here. Thank you so much for the love and support.
"Without a doubt [it was] one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career and having the huge support I received during the three weeks is going to stay in my heart for the rest of my life, so many, many thanks.
"One month and half ago I would have said it would be my last Australian Open, but now I have a lot of energy to carry on. I cant explain the feelings I have now, but I'm going to try my best to come back next year."
READ: Ashleigh Barty beats Danielle Collins to become first home Australian Open singles champion since 1978
Medvedev cruises early
The crowd was audibly in favor of Nadal when the two players walked out onto the court, with a smattering of boos echoing around Rod Laver arena when Medvedev was introduced.
In Nadal's second service game, the pair exchanged a grueling 26-shot rally which ended with Medvedev's pinpoint backhand down the line to open up a 0-30 advantage.
The Spaniard then shut the door with two quite remarkable points; the first a ridiculous passing shot after Medvedev had crushed a short forehand straight at him, the second a volley winner after being forced to go full stretch to reach a huge forehand.
Nadal did eventually hold serve to take an early 2-1 lead, but he was being made to work brutally hard for every single point and was already being forced to produce some of his best tennis.
As Medvedev cruised through his own service games by comparison, heaping the pressure immediately back onto Nadal, you had to wonder whether this level of tennis was sustainable for five sets for the 35-year-old.
The pair had barely been playing for 20 minutes and already Nadal was drenched with sweat, his shirt clinging to his torso and beads falling from head. At the other end of the court, Medvedev looked like he'd barely broken a sweat.
Indeed, Nadal's serve was broken to love in his very next service game as Medvedev took a 3-2 lead. Things were looking ominous.
Two more easy holds followed, as did another easy break of Nadal's serve, as Medvedev closed out the first set without dropping another game.
Nadal fights back
Nadal desperately needed to try something different in the second set; Medvedev was hitting the ball harder and more cleanly and felt like the favorite to win each point at the start of every rally.
The Spaniard opened the second set with a relatively comfortable hold of serve -- perhaps his only one of the match so far -- celebrating with a shout of "si" and a fist pump towards his box as he attempted to fire himself up.
It clearly worked as Nadal earned his first break of the match in Medevedev's next service game -- and he was really made to earn it.
Nadal ended a mammoth 40-shot rally with a quite ridiculous sliced backhand that Medvedev couldn't get anywhere near to open up a 15-40 lead, eventually breaking serve with his second break point to go 3-1 up.
However, after an easy hold of serve, Medvedev held his own serve before breaking Nadal back -- much to the despair of the boisterous crowd on Rod Laver.
This match, though, was becoming unpredictable and Nadal broke Medvedev's serve once again to take a 5-3 lead and give himself the chance to serve for the second set.
To make matters more complicated, an incident in the stands forced a number of security guards to come onto the court and stand around the two players as a man apparently attempted to jump onto the court.
In keeping with the rest of the match, it was a brutal game that lasted more than 12 minutes and it was Medvedev that came out on top, finally breaking back with his fifth break point to make it 4-5 and deny Nadal the set.
The pair exchanged holds of serve until the set reached a tie break. Nadal had done well to make this match a contest, but winning this set was felt crucial to ensuring the final would go the distance.
The Spaniard has produced some Herculean efforts throughout his career, but coming from two sets down here was surely beyond him. Wasn't it?
As the clock ticked over the two hour mark, both players continued to produce outstanding tennis but it was once again Medvedev who got the better of Nadal.
One crucial point in the tie breaker -- with Nadal leading 5-4 -- went to the Russian as Nadal's volley dropped just wide. The hawkeye system confirmed the line judge's call, but the decision was still roundly booed by the crowd.
After Medvedev hit the backhand winner that earned him the