It took nearly five hours for Rafa Nadal to claim his fourth US Open trophy and 19th Grand Slam overall to edge closer to Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 and the five won at Flushing Meadows by the Swiss, Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors.
Has been one of the most emotional nights in my tennis career, The way that the match became very dramatic at the end, that makes this day unforgettable Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard beat the in-form Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 in a thrilling final which saw the experienced 33-year-old from Mallorca recover from losing a winning position at two sets to love to finally clinch it in the fifth and become the oldest US Open champion after Ken Rosewall in 1970, aged 35.
The final also heralded the arrival of the NextGen, with the 23-year-old from Moscow coming so close to breaking the dominance of the ‘Big Three’ at Grand Slam level leading Nadal to praise his performance and declare: “He will have many more opportunities like this.”
There can be no doubt of that considering the run he has had this summer which included final appearances at Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati – where he won – and now the US Open. He will certainly be the player to watch during the forthcoming Asian swing.
That’s in the future. The night belonged to Nadal who was moved to tears when a video tribute was played out highlighting his achievements.
“Has been one of the most emotional nights in my tennis career,” the new four-time champion said. “The way that the match became very dramatic at the end, that makes this day unforgettable,” Nadal added.
“Watching all the success, all the moments that came to my mind, I tried to hold the emotion, but some moments was impossible!
“This victory means a lot,” he continued. “And the way it happened. It was hard to control the nerves. The nerves were so high after having the match almost under control.”
It had taken him 63-minutes to stamp his authority on the final by pocketing the opening set following a series of lengthy, hard-fought rallies averaging 9-shots per game with a few extending to 10-minutes.
It took Nadal another 35-minutes to take command of the match in the second set and he seemed to be in cruise control an on his way to victory to emulate his previous win over Medvedev at last month’s Montreal final.
The Russian was certainly staring at defeat. “To be honest in my mind, I was already thinking, ‘What do I say in the speech, it’s going to be in 20 minutes,” Medvedev admitted. “I was like, ‘I have to fight for every ball.”
And he did and was rewarded, first, by breaking Nadal for the first time to level at 3-all (having dropped his own serve in the fifth game) and matching the Spaniard shot for shot in a series of lengthy and punishing exchanges which had the 23,000 crowd on their feet.
He broke again in the 12th game to snatch the third set and followed that by continuing to press in the opening moments of the fourth but was denied a break by Nadal but made up for it in the 10th to level the match by blasting a backhand return winner to complete a five-point run to force a fifth set.
The pressure on Nadal continued as he staved off three Medvedev break chances in the second game but the Spaniard’s renown fighting spirit still burns as he took a 3-2 lead with a backhand volley winner.
Chants of “Ra-fa” echoed through the stadium as he held for 4-2 and when Medvedev sent an overhead smash beyond the baseline to hand the Spaniard a break for a 5-2 edge, it resonated louder.
Nadal served for the match, only for Medvedev to recover a break for 5-3 when umpire Ali Nili issued Nadal a time violation for his first serve and the world No.2 sent his second serve long. The crowd spoke for him by booing Nili for his violation call.
Nadal had two break and match points in the ninth game, which were saved by Medvedev with a backhand winner and, on the second, Nadal committing a forehand error to keep the fifth seed in contention as the drama intensified.
Again, serving for the match, Nadal rescued a break point then hit a forehand drop volley for his third match point which he took courtesy of a Medvedev forehand returned over the baseline.
Emitting a scream of delight, Nadal fell on the court as he took in what had been a classic final that will have established Daniil Medvedev as a star having made a myriad of new fans through his own indomitable and fighting spirit.
It had taken a supreme effort by Nadal who nearly became the first player to drop the final when leading by two sets since Ted Schroeder in 1949, but as a consequence he was rewarded with a $3.85 million cheque and added to his US Open trophy haul from 2010, 2013 and 2017.
Nadal, who was in his fifth US Open championship match and 27th Grand Slam final, is also the first man to claim five major titles after turning 30.
“I more or less had the match under control,” he commented later. ” Daniil is only 23-years-old and the way he was able to fight, to change the rhythm of the match, was incredible.”
At four hours and 50 minutes, the match finished four minutes short of equalling the longest final in US Open history set by Mats Wilander’s 1988 and Andy Murray’s 2012 wins.
“This victory is so important for me,” the emotional Nadal said as he wiped away tears during the trophy presentation.
“Especially as the match became more and more difficult. I was able to hold the nerves. They were so high. It was a crazy match and I’m just very emotional,” he added after winning his second Slam title of the year following his incredible 12th French Open crown in June.
“It was an amazing final.”
And it left an impression on Medvedev.
“The way you are playing is a big joke,” the Russian told him during the trophy ceremony. “It’s very tough to play against you.
“Because of the crowd, I was fighting like hell.
“I was fighting like hell and I didn’t give up, but unfortunately it didn’t go my way,” he added, concluding: “A 19th Grand Slam title is something unbelievable, outrageous.”
And Medvedev nearly denied him that.