Entertainment Sports Rafael Nadal Gets Praise from 'Rival' Roger Federer After Winning Record-Breaking 21st Grand Slam Prior to Rafael Nadal’s Sunday victory, he was tied with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles By Ally Mauch Published on January 31, 2022 08:48 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Roger Federer; Rafael Nadal. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Rafael Nadal just became the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles — and his fellow champions are celebrating the major milestone. Following a 5½-hour match with Russian player Daniil Medvedev, Nadal, 35, won the Australian Open and broke his tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who both hold 20 Grand Slam men's singles titles. (The overall record for singles titles in the Open Era goes to Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slams). "What a match! To my friend and great rival, @rafaelnadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles," Federer, 40, wrote on his Instagram Story. "A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion," he continued, referencing their recent injuries. "Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world." MICHAEL ERREY/AFP via Getty Images/Roger Federer Instagram Rafael Nadal Gets Emotional After Securing Chance to Compete for 21st Grand Slam Title "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!" concluded the Swiss athlete, who did not compete in the Open as he continues to recover from a knee surgery. Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. Djokovic, 34, also posted on his social media after Nadal's win, writing on Twitter, "Congratulations to @RafaelNadal for 21st GS. Amazing achievement. Always impressive fighting spirit that prevailed another time. Enhorabuena @Medwed33 gave it his all out there and played with the passion and determination we have come to expect from him. Djokovic did not attend the Australian Open, due to being unvaccinated against COVID-19. He had initially received a COVID-19 vaccine medical exemption to play in the tournament, but was later forced to leave the country after Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled his visa. Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. Clive Brunskill/Getty Novak Djokovic Could Be Barred from 2022 French Open Following New Vaccine Mandate Nadal told reporters that his Australian Open win is "without a doubt probably the biggest comeback of my tennis career," according to ESPN. "The most unexpected. And most surprising, I think, for everyone," he added. Less than six months before the record-breaking victory, Nadal had withdrawn from the U.S. Open due to a foot injury, marking the end of his 2021 career. He also missed Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics after a devastating loss to Djokovic in the French Open semifinals. "Tonight has been unforgettable," he said after Sunday's match. "I feel very lucky."