Rafael Nadal looked well on his way to a 19th Grand Slam title Sunday at the US Open. The 33-year-old was thought to be by many an overwhelming favorite in his fifth US Open final against the first-time Major finalist Daniil Medvedev who he whipped dropping just three games a month ago in Canada.
Early on, though, there was a sense this was a different Medvedev than the one from Montreal. The Russian earned a break point in the very first game of the match, then broke in Rafa’s next service game for a quick 2-1 lead. Nadal broke back and things settled down for what would be the first of five tough sets.
Nadal wasn’t in peak form off the ground or with his serve, and that allowed Medvedev to gain confidence in his shots, especially his inside-out down-the-line backhand which was very effective.
But Medvedev couldn’t force a first set breaker giving Rafa a 7-5 first set after an hour of play.
Nadal saved another early break point to start the second, the grabbed his own break to get to a third.
With Medvedev lookingn weary, Rafa broke again in the third for 3-2. But just minutes from the finish line, he got broken right back and Medvedev caught fire.
The big Russian continued to blanket the net, serve-and-volley and give Rafa problems with his speed and backhand.
Serving to force a tiebreaker, this time Rafa blinked and was stunningly broken at 15. He should have been in the locker room, instead we were going to a fourth.
Both players saved more break chances but serving to stay in the set at 4-5 with a 40-15 lead, Nadal lost four straight points in stunning fashion culminating with a Medvedev pass off a serve. We’d go to a fifth.
Nadal was now looking worse for the wear. The 18-time Slam winner wasn’t finding the range from the backcourt, so he resorted to coming in and coming in a lot. Even serve-and-volleying. Medvedev continued to push Nadal around the court, then bring him in with the dropshot then lob. A tactic that was working.
Down 1-0, Nadal saved three early break points to start the fifth, then broke Medvedev consecutively to take what appeared to be a finishing 5-2 lead. But it wasn’t over.
Medvedev found one last run. Medvedev saved two match points on his serve at 5-3 with a backhand winner and a gutsy serve-and-volley on second serve.
Serving for it a second time as the match closed in on five hours, Nadal went down 15-30, then down break point but regrouped and took it on his third championship point when a Medvedev forehand service return sailed long. In 4 hours, 49 minutes, Rafa wins his 4th US Open title 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.
“The last three hours of the match have been very, very intense, no? Very tough mentally and physically, too,” Nadal said. “At the end with the video, the crowd that have been as always amazing, all these facts that make the moment super special, no? Unforgettable moment. At the same time Daniil created this moment, too. The way that he fighted, the way that he played, is a champion way. Just well done for him. I really believe that he will have many more chances.
“Just very happy. This trophy means everything to me today. Personal satisfaction the way that I resisted all these tough moments is very high. Just I normally try to hold the emotions, but at the end for all these facts have been impossible today.”
The two combined for 39 serve-and-volley points (20 for Nadal, 29 for Medvedev) and 140 total points played at the net. They also totaled 69 points with rallies 9 or more strokes, 36 of those won by Nadal.
Medvedev, who had been maligned by the New York fans a week ago, was now cheered for his fight.
“I definitely will remember tonight,” Medvedev said. “I’m sure even talking about Rafa’s 19 Grand Slams, I’m sure he remembers his first final, even though he won it and I lost it. I mean, was amazing match. It’s an amazing story. All this summer is amazing for me. I will remember every moment of it. I have a really good memory if we talk about tennis. I’ll definitely remember it even when I’m, like, 70 years old.”
Nadal improves to 19-8 in Grand Slam finals as he now stands just one title away from matching Roger Federer’s all-time total of 20.
“I would love to be the one who win more, but I am not thinking and I not going to practice every day or not playing tennis for it. I am playing tennis because I love to play tennis,” Nadal said. “I can’t just think about Grand Slams, no? Tennis is more than Grand Slams. I need to think about the rest of the things.
“I play to be happy. Of course, the victory of today makes me super happy. But few weeks ago I won in Montreal and have been important moment for me, too. Of course, is not a comparation [sic] because is completely different story.”
Nadal also takes home his fifth Slam as a 30-year-old which is most in the Open Era. And he heads into the fall with a big lead in the Race.
“For me, my main goal is play as long as possible and compete, being competitive. Sometimes if you need to follow the No. 1, you going to lose years of your career,” Nadal said.
“But I am there. If I am able to play well until the end of the season, I going to have my chances. That going to be amazing. But I always say the same: is not my main goal today.”
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