Nadal defeats Djokovic to win first US Open title and complete career Grand Slam
It took two days and waiting out a nearly two-hour rain delay, but Rafael Nadal finally won his first US Open title.
He was tested for the first time against No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic, as he was broken more times in the match than he had been in all his previous matches combined and lost his first set in the tournament. However, Nadal prevailed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, to win his ninth career Grand Slam tournament title and become the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam.
At 24, Nadal is the third-youngest player ever to complete the career Slam and the youngest in the Open Era. He has now won three consecutive majors, having captured the titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon earlier this year. With the win, he also snapped his hardcourt losing streak to Djokovic, who had won their three previous meetings and whom he had not beaten on a surface besides clay since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Both players brought their best tennis, and in a high-quality match, Djokovic fought to the last point, but Nadal was just better on this day and continued to be aggressive throughout the match, winning the title when Djokovic missed a shot wide.
As Djokovic’s shot sailed out, Nadal fell to the court, covering his face and then turned face down, trembling with excitement. In a great act of sportsmanship, Djokovic then came across the net to embrace and congratulate Nadal, who was overjoyed to win his first title in Flushing Meadows. His victory is also likely to silence his final critics about his ability to win on hardcourts.
“It was amazing feeling. I think win against Novak is always very, very difficult, and the results say that lots of times, I lost against him,” Nadal said of winning and his record against Djokovic. “So I think for the first time in my career I played a very, very good match in this tournament. I played my best match in the US Open at the most important moment, so I am very, very happy for that.
“It’s a dream, have the career Grand Slam, but this is more dream have the US Open,” he added. “I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”
Nadal entered the match the fresher of the two players after a straight-sets victory over Mikhail Youzhny in the semifinals on Saturday, whereas Djokovic had to battle Roger Federer for five sets before he advanced to his second career US Open final.
It seemed he was given a huge reprieve and an extra day of rest, when rain postponed the men’s final from Sunday to Monday, but it turned out Nadal, the world No. 1, was still too much.
Djokovic also credited Nadal’s outstanding play and deemed him a worthy winner.
“He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever. I think he’s playing the best tennis that I ever seen him play on hardcourts. He has improved his serve drastically. The speed, the accuracy, and of course his baseline is as good as ever,” Djokovic, also the 2007 US Open runner-up, said of Nadal.
“I was feeling good on the court tonight from a physical perspective and just running all over the court and getting a lot of balls back,” he added of his condition. “It was just a pleasure performing in front of the people who enjoy tennis so much and support the players.”
Nadal played his best tennis throughout the tournament and displayed a much faster serve that saw him broken just twice in 91 games leading into the final against Djokovic. Against Djokovic, the world No. 3, he was tested the most he had been in the fortnight, as he was broken three times and lost his first set in seven matches, but he recovered each time. His first serve reached 132 mph Monday.
“I think the hardcourt always was the most difficult surface to play good for me, especially with the serve, because I have to play almost every point, and probably the serve make the big difference in this tournament,” Nadal said. “For me, the most important thing (going forward) is try to keep serving like I did during this tournament. If I can do it, this most of the times gonna be a big change for me and my tennis career because if I have that free points that I had during all this tournament gonna be different for me. I can play more aggressive. I can play with more calm when I am returning.”
As formidable as Nadal had been in Flushing Meadows, it made getting off to a fast start key for Djokovic. Instead, he came out and lost his opening service game, as Nadal hit a winner down the line to win the game, as he seemed to have the higher intensity and concentration to start the match.
But then he did something that was very rare in this tournament – broke Nadal – to bring the set to 2-all, when Nadal made two consecutive errors. He then fought off five break points from Nadal in his next service game, featuring more long rallies, before Nadal finally closed it out with a winner to the right side. Upset at himself, Djokovic then smashed his racquet on the ground multiple times in anger, for which he received a code violation.
Nadal and Djokovic then traded holds to make it 4-3, but the Serb was still trailing a break, from which he was unable to recover.
However, in the second set, the tide started to turn in Djokovic’s favor. Starting on serve, Nadal took the ball to serve at 2-1 and quickly went down on two errors and then double faulted for the first time in the match to give Djokovic triple break point. The Serb then converted the break on the next point, when Nadal hit a shot long after a long rally for the 3-1 lead. In the next game, Djokovic’s game continued to rise to its top level, as he held at love and then won 11 straight points and grabbed the momentum as well as control of most of the points.
Leading 4-2, Djokovic took the ball to serve, and Nadal quickly started fighting back. The game progressed to deuce, and Nadal then gained the advantage, when Djokovic hit a shot into the net. The Serb saved that break point and then another, but Nadal finally evened the set with a deep shot down the left line that Djokovic hit into the net to make it 4-3. He then held to level the set at 4-all.
In the next game, on Djokovic’s serve and at 30-all, rain started to fall in Arthur Ashe Stadium, suspending play in the match, and the players immediately left the court after an hour and 40 minutes of play.
The rain delay lasted just under two hours, and Djokovic responded with a hold in the first game back, and the delay appeared to have no negative effect on him. At 6-5 on Nadal’s serve, the Spaniard was up 30-15 on an ace, but he missed a volley into the net, and then on a deep groundstroke from Djokovic, Nadal hit a shot wide to give him a break point. Djokovic then earned the break and the second set – with a giant fist pump – when Nadal hit a shot into the net.
As a whole, Djokovic handled Nadal’s much-improved serve extremely well and was able to capitalize on chances when he had them, converting on three of four break-point opportunities. However, throughout the match, he frequently was on the defensive on his serve, which he did well, as Nadal was only able to convert on six of 26 break-point chances.
But the world No. 1 was not down for long. Nadal grabbed the early lead in the third after Djokovic saved two break points but handed Nadal the break for a 2-1 lead when he missed a forehand wide. He went for the double break lead against Djokovic in his next service game at 3-2 but could not capitalize on three break-point chances in the game.
“For me, in order to win against (Nadal) tonight, I had to be on the top of my game,” Djokovic said. “I was playing really well for most of the match, but then there were some moments in, let’s say, third and fourth set where I dropped my focus a little bit. I dropped my level of game and just a little bit on service games. It went for me. He took it away, and he never gave me a chance to go back.”
Djokovic then saved five more break-point opportunities in his next service game to stay in the set and keep himself down one break. As a whole throughout the match, Djokovic continued to play great defense and dig deep when needed to keep himself in the set.
But Nadal was giving nothing away on his serve in the third, closing out the third set with a few great serves, including an ace and then one Djokovic could just manage to get his racquet on to give Nadal the set at 6-4 and a two-sets-to-one lead.
“I had this 15-30 chance in 5-4 third set, and then he served, I mean, three amazing serves,” Djokovic said. “So I think that’s one of the key factors today in his win, except an amazing baseline game, of course, and great coverage of the court. The serve was fantastic the whole tournament.”
In the fourth set, Nadal then grabbed the lead early, as he put pressure on Djokovic at 1-all, earning the break and the lead, when Djokovic hit a shot that clipped the net and then landed past the baseline. He seemed to take control from there, as he had an easy hold to go to 3-1 and then earned the two-break lead in the next game, when Djokovic hit a shot into the net to dig himself a deep 4-1 hole, from which Nadal never allowed him to recover.
It completed a remarkable turnaround in the past year for Nadal, who competed in the 2009 US Open with an abdominal tear and after missing several months on the tour as he dealt with knee tendinitis and also the separation of his parents. Now healthy, there might be no limit to what he can do.
“Ten months ago seems like I never gonna be another time the same,” Nadal said. “Now seems I gonna be one of the greatest. Last year I had a difficult year. Well, I had a great year because when you win a Grand Slam (the Australian Open) and three Masters 1000, you have a great year, but is true the second half of the year was very difficult for me, have some personal problems, home, and after, I have a lot of injuries, here the abdominal, before, the knees.
“My goal is all the time and all my life was the same, is keep improving and feel myself better player next year than what I felt this year,” he added.