Rafael Nadal’s victory at the US Open has intensified the focus on the men’s list of most Grand Slam singles titles won.
The Spaniard’s fourth US Open title — coming courtesy of a brilliant five-set victory over newcomer Daniil Medvedev — means he now owns 19 major singles trophies, one less than Federer’s men’s record of 20.
Had a few points here and there gone another way, we might not be having this conversation.
Most men’s Grand Slams…
Federer – 20
Nadal – 19 ????
Djokovic – 16
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) September 9, 2019
Less than two months ago, in the Wimbledon final, Federer led Djokovic 8-7, 40-15 in the fifth set, with two match points in hand as he served for a ninth Wimbledon title and 21st major title overall.
Nadal, meanwhile, was pushed to the limit against Medvedev, staving off break points which would have seen him trail 2-0 in the fifth set, and very nearly blowing a 5-2 fifth-set lead when Medvedev held a break point to level scores at 5-5.
Now, instead of Federer being possibly three Grand Slam singles trophies clear of his rival, his lead has been reduced to one. And it’s the closest Nadal has ever come to Federer in this long-running tally.
While fans salivate at the prospect of a Grand Slam “arms race” unfolding in 2020, Nadal’s focus lies elsewhere.
“I would love to be the one who win more, but I am not thinking (about this) and I not going to practice every day or not playing tennis for it. I am playing tennis because I love to play tennis,” he 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.
“I feel honored to be part of this (Grand Slam) battle. But I repeat the same: you can’t be all day looking next to you about if one having more or one having little bit less, because you will be frustrated.
“All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream. What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you give your best. In that way I am very, very calm, very pleased with myself.”
With Nadal’s victory, he has also closed the gap on world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
The Serb, who has enjoyed an uninterrupted 11-month reign at the top, led the second-ranked Nadal by 3,740 ranking points entering the tournament at Flushing Meadows.
Yet last year’s champion made an injury-induced fourth-round exit when facing Stan Wawrinka, thus failing to defend the 2000 points he earned 12 months ago. Meanwhile, Nadal gained a healthy amount of points after improving on his semifinal result from 2018.
Now, Djokovic’s points lead is projected to be whittled down to just over 600 points.
But again, Nadal said that catching, or surpassing, a rival ahead of him was not a primary goal.
“I don’t compete for it. I just do my way,” he said.
“Of course, is great to be in that fight. But for me personally, is not really a fight. I just try be competitive the weeks that I need to compete, or the weeks that I want to compete.
“If I am able to play well until the end of the season, I going to have my chances (to be No.1). That going to be amazing. But I always say the same: is not my main goal today.
“With my age and with my goals, I cannot lose energy or time to follow the No. 1. I need to think about my career in a different way.”
So what is driving the Spaniard after 16 fruitful seasons on the professional tennis circuit?
It is clear the emotions generated by winning the sport’s biggest titles remain as intense as ever, perhaps even more than they used to be.
Tournament organisers, following Nadal’s win over Medvedev and prior to the trophy presentation, broadcast a video of all Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam victories.
The 33-year-old watched, and wept.
Nadal has for much of his career battled physical problems — undoubtedly linked with his physically punishing brand of tennis — that have sporadically sidelined him and caused him great anguish.
It means he appreciates more the times when he is healthy, especially when he knows his career is closer to its end date than its beginning.
“For me, my main goal is play as long as possible and compete, being competitive,” he explained.
“Today is the day to enjoy. I did this during all my career. If not, I will not be able to be where I am today with all the injuries that I had, no? I need to adapt my game to my problems and to my goals.
“(With) all the things I went through, be able to still being here is so special for me. I went through some tough moments, physically especially. When you have physical issues, then mentally things became much more difficult, no?
“The emotions have been there watching (the video of) all the success, all the moments that came to my mind in that moment. Yeah, I tried to hold the emotion, but some moments was impossible.”
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