FLUSHING, N.Y. -- Playing with the bravado of a bullfighter and with the precision of a prima ballerina, Novak Djokovic punctuated a practically perfect tennis season with a stunning 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1 victory over last year's champion, Rafael Nadal, to capture his first U.S. Open on Monday.
After testing each other's physical limits for four hours and 10 minutes, Djokovic, a 24-year-old Serb who two months ago passed Nadal to ascend to No. 1 in the world rankings, crammed one final forehand winner past the spent Spaniard, fell backwards onto the Arthur Ashe stadium court and jubilantly celebrated his fourth major championship in front of a crowd of 23,000 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
He was rewarded with $2.3 million, including a $500,000 bonus for placing second in the U.S. Open Series of summer hard-court events.
Djokovic has now won three of the four majors this year -- the Australian Open over Brit Andy Murray and Wimbledon and the U.S. Open over Nadal -- and has amassed a stunning 64-2 record with several ATP events and Davis Cup still to be played. His only losses have been to Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open and to Murray in the final of the U.S. Open warm-up event in Cincinnati, a match he retired from due to a sore shoulder. He has now beaten Nadal in six consecutive finals this year on three different surfaces: clay, grass and hard courts. Last year he lost to Nadal both times they played, including in the final here.
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So far, Djokovic's record is the best since John McEnroe ended 1984 at 82-3 and Federer completed 2005 at 81-4. However, McEnroe and Federer won only two majors each in those years. Last year, Nadal captured the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open en route to a 71-10 season record.
Nadal tried hard to make a good first impression and he did so by breaking Djokovic's serve at the start of the first two sets. But each time, the Serb immediately broke back by opening up the court with lengthy side-to-side rallies and then smacking throat-clearing winners off both wings. By standing on the baseline and swinging freely while his opponent counter-punched from eight feet behind the baseline, Djokovic was able to impose his will effectively and Nadal was continuously in the position of having to fight back without the benefit of the angles employed from across the net.
"Obviously I'm disappointed but this guy is doing unbelievable things," said Nadal, who lost his No. 1 world ranking to Djokovic just after Wimbledon. "I tried my best in every moment. I fighted until the last point. But in general, he did great, no?"
"Sometimes you need those tough matches against the top guys to reach the belief that you can hit the shots when you need to," said Djokovic, who saved two match points in knocking out Federer in the semifinals on Saturday. "The winner is the one who believes in victory more than the others."
After the match, both players extended condolences to the victims of 9-11, Djokovic, who earlier in the tournament attributed his fighting spirit to having lived and learned through the Croatian-Serbian war of the early 1990s, donned an FDNY hat during the trophy presentation.
A day after Serena Williams berated a chair umpire for taking away a point because she distracted her final-round opponent, Samantha Stosur, by shouting "Come on" before her forehand winner hit the court, Williams was fined $2,000 for the code violation of verbal abuse. She was spared any further sanctions because, on review, it was deemed that her behavior was not a "major offense."