Nadal tops Djokovic in four sets for U.S. Open title

Posted Monday, Sep. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Rafael Nadal was like a caged cougar.

Trying to remain stoic while Australian great, Hall of Famer and two-time Grand Slam winner Rod Laver presided over the coin toss before his U.S. Open final against top-seeded Novak Djokovic, the second-seeded Spaniard looked like a kindergartener trying to keep still during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Finally unleashed, Nadal sprinted toward the baseline, pranced around like a Radio City Rockette even during the warm-up and didn’t stop moving until he was writhing on the court in celebration of his 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Djokovic that gave him his second U.S. Open championship and 13th major overall.

With two U.S. Opens, eight French championships, one Australian and two Wimbledon titles, the 27-year-old Nadal now stands just one major behind Pete Sampras and four behind the record of 17 set by Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year.

The win gave him his 10th title of the season, one short of his career high of 11 set in 2005, a 60-3 record and also extended his win streak on hard courts to 22.

He was also rewarded with a check for $3.6 million, $2.6 million in prize money and another $ 1 million for winning the U.S. Open Series of North American summer hard-court tournaments.

Despite the oft-injured knees that have plagued him for the past few years, kept him off the ATP World Tour for seven months from last June through this past February and prevented him from competing here last year, Nadal has not lost a hard-court match since he fell to Federer in the semifinals in Indian Wells, Calif., in March of 2012.

The match was hardly of the exquisite quality exhibited by Djokovic and Nadal during their encounters in the semifinals of the French Open in June (a match won by Nadal 9-7 in the fifth set) or at the Australian Open in January of last year. That five-setter was won by Djokovic in five hours and 53 minutes.

But it did have its moments of brilliance, including a 54-stroke up-and-back, side-to-side rally that enabled Djokovic to break serve for a 4-2 lead in the second set and ultimately draw even at a set apiece.

Djokovic then broke again to begin the third set as he cast off the shackles of hesitation that seemed to dog him for the first set and a half.

But so determined was Nadal that he came up with an answer for every Djokovic trick, retrieving even the most fiercely and noisily struck angled cross court backhands and then mixing them up with well-timed drop shots that stopped dead on Djokovic’s side of the court.

At 4-4 in the third set, Nadal fell behind 0-40, at one point stumbling backward in his pursuit of a deep return by Djokovic but never letting the ball out of his sight.

But the Spaniard saved all three break points, the third with a 125-mph ace, and held with a well-placed overhead winner. He broke the Serb in the next game to take the set, also seemingly breaking his spirit.

“It’s all my fault,” said Djokovic, who was appearing in his fourth straight U.S. Open final, winning in 2011 but losing in the final last year to Andy Murray. “I made some unforced errors in the crucial moments with forehands and dropped the serve twice when I should not have. Next thing you know, it’s two sets to one for him.”

“That was a really important set,” said Nadal, of breaking to win the third. “I knew I had to play almost perfect to win today because when Novak plays at his top level I’m not sure anybody can stop him.”

The newest ATP computer rankings will still list Djokovic as the No. 1 player in the world.

But with his two majors this year, at the French and U.S. Opens, as well as his 3-1 head-to-head record, Nadal is clearly the best player in the world.

The honor is not lost on the Spaniard.

“This was probably the match I wanted most in my career,” Nadal said, the emotion catching in his voice. “I felt I did everything right to prepare and it’s a really special moment for me.”

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