Rafael Nadal won his fourth US Open crown on Sunday with a thrilling five-set win over major final debutant Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal’s 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 win earned the Spaniard a 19th Grand Slam title — putting him just one behind Roger Federer, who owns 20, on the all-time men’s list.
— BBC Tennis (@bbctennis) September 9, 2019
He was given a scare by the young Russian, letting slip a two-sets-to-love lead as well as a 5-2 lead in the fifth. He required three championship points in a final lasting almost five hours.
Yet his champion qualities eventually shone through in a magnificent contest that ended under lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“An amazing final, no?” Nadal said during the trophy presentation.
“Difficult to speak, has been one of the most emotional nights in my tennis career, with that video (in stadium showing his 19 Grand Slam victories), with all the support from all you guys.”
Nadal was pushed early by Medvedev, who until this fortnight at Flushing Meadows had never been beyond the fourth round at a major tournament.
Nadal was rattled after being handed a time violation warning in the very first game of the match, during which he also faced a break point. He was unsure on his forehand wing, dropping the ball short and frequently erring against an opponent who settled into his first major final remarkably fast.
But once Nadal gained confidence, began closing in on the net and unfurling his mighty forehand, the match was largely one-way traffic.
Until, it turned out, halfway through the third set.
Nadal was in command, leading two sets to love and ahead a break in the third. He’d won 15 of 16 Grand Slam finals after winning the first set, and 208 of 209 best-of-five set matches after leading two-sets-to-love.
Nadal has won his last 19 finals after winning the first set.
And he’s 15-1 in Grand Slam finals from this position.
We’ve seen Medvedev do some freakishly good things this summer. This would top the lot. #USOpen
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) September 8, 2019
In short? An absolutely magnificent frontrunner.
Yet after breaking serve to lead 3-2 in the third, Nadal, somewhat inexplicably, got broken in the very next game. Did he get tight? Did he lose concentration momentarily? Did Medvedev dig in?
Perhaps it was a combination of all three factors. The result? Medvedev was still alive. And now emboldened.
“To be honest, in my mind I was already, OK, what do I say in the speech? It’s gonna be soon, in 20 minutes,” Medvedev laughed.
“Losing in three sets in the first final, trying to give a fight but not really. And so I was like OK, anyway, I have to fight for every ball and I have to see how it goes.
“It went far, huh? But unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”
He was now hanging with Nadal in the longer rallies, and also injecting flatter power and pace into his shots. Buoyed by the crowd, he won eight of the set’s last nine points to send the match to a fourth.
Incredible: 44 rallies of 9 or more shots.
And Nadal only just edging it, 23-21.
— Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) September 8, 2019
In these situations, Nadal typically responds resoundingly. After dropping the second set of the French Open final to Dominic Thiem, he won the next two 6-1 6-1. After dropping the second set of his fourth-round match to Marin Cilic this tournament, he won 10 of the next 11 games, winning the last two sets 6-1 6-2.
Not this time.
Although Nadal came out all guns blazing, Medvedev withstood the challenge, in particular in the fifth game where he was forced to save two break points — the first with a daring serve-and-volley play — to hold for 3-2.
With Nadal serving in the 10th game trailing 4-5, he moved ahead 40-15 only for Medvedev to reel him in with a spectacular forehand passing shot from well behind the court. With scores now locked at deuce, Nadal hooked a forehand wide to hand a set point to Medvedev — who converted it with a stunning backhand return winner up the line.
Somehow, the match was now in a fifth set.
5th time @RafaelNadal has gone to a 5th set after winning 1st 2 sets in a #GrandSlam tournament:
2004 #USOpen 1R d. Heuberger 60 63 46 26 63
2007 @Wimbledon 3R d. Soderling 64 64 67 46 75
2008 Wimbledon F d. Federer 64 64 67 67 97
2015 #USOpen 3R lost to Fognini 36 46 64 63 64
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) September 9, 2019
Here, Medvedev had his chances.
He held three break points in the second game for a 2-0 lead, and held leads of 40-0 and 30-0 on serve in the fifth and seventh games, only to be broken.
Trailing 5-2, he was a point away from levelling scores at 5-5 as Nadal struggled to serve out the match.
But the Spaniard, mentally strong as ever, staved off that break point in the final game and eventually sealed victory in four hours and 49 minutes before an electric crowd.
“That’s so important for me,” Nadal said of his fourth US Open title.
“This victory means a lot and especially the way that the match became so difficult, so tough, was able to hold at the end the nerves because the nerves were so high after having the match almost under control and then 5-2, 5-4, break points.
“So have been a crazy match … I’m just emotional.”
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