Rafael Nadal won his second career US Open title and 13th Grand Slam singles title overall this year in New York.
© Andrew Ong
By Nicholas J. Walz
WHAT HAPPENED: Rafael Nadal won his second US Open crown, beating Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the men's final, closing out the 2013 tournament inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was Nadal's 13th Grand Slam singles title, moving him into third place all-time among men, just one shy of Pete Sampras' 14 and four behind Roger Federer's 17.
Last year, he watched from home. This year, New York felt like home.
"I [had] those people around me," said Nadal, whose father, uncle and Queen Sofia of Spain were all in attendance. "And all the fans, too, that really supported me a lot during this period of time was very important to me.
"Just was a celebration."
The contest was the 37th professional bout between the rivals – most for any head-to-head matchup in the Open era, with Nadal entering the match holding a career win-loss advantage, 21-15. It's now 22-15.
The Spaniard surged to an early lead, utilizing aggressive shot-making to earn an early break. Spin and speed were factors that favored the Spaniard, as he adjusted to the stadium winds and outslugged the Serb. Nadal broke his opponent a second time to get to 5-2, the served out the set. In the first stanza, Nadal would commit just four unforced errors to Djokovic’s 14.
After an hour of sluggish play, Djokovic awoke in the second set. While Nadal had been broken just once in 82 service games in his first six wins in the tournament, Djokovic broke the No. 2 seed twice in the second. The Serb's shots started to find their range, and he started to hold his own in rallying with one of the best ground-strokers in the game. What's more, his serve started to beome a more effective weapon. With more pop and renewed pep, Djokovic made it 5-3 with a forceful two-handed backhand at the net after Nadal tried to get too fine with a drop shot. The top seed then held serve to even the match at a set apiece.
The match turned in the third set. At 4-all, Djokovic was up triple break point at, but Nadal dug in and fought his way back to deuce, eventually saving three break points on his serve. Djokovic got it to 30-0 on his serve in the next game, but Nadal stole the match’s momentum with four straight points, the last coming with a down-the-line winner.
"It was disappointing that I dropped the third set, even though I felt like especially in first four, five games I was the one who was dictating the play," said Djokovic, who dropped to 1-4 in his career in the US Open men's final. "But it's all my fault. 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, all of a sudden it's two-sets-to-one for him."
Nadal controlled the fourth and final set, breaking Djokovic twice to take the set, 6-1, the dominating performance putting an exclamation point on his remarkable run to the title.
“Playing against Novak is a very special feeling – probably nobody brings my game to that limit like Novak did,” said Nadal, holding the trophy during his on-court victory address. Turning to his opponent, the victor said, “You are an amazing player, and you’re having an amazing career. I’m sure that [you] will finish [your] career being one of the best in the history of tennis.”
“He definitely deserved to win this match today and this trophy,” said Djokovic of Nadal. "Thirteen Grand Slams for a guy who is 27 years old is incredible. I mean, whatever he achieved so far in his career is something that everybody should respect, no question about it."
WHAT IT MEANS: Though he still will be ranked No. 2 after this event, Nadal is clearly the top men’s player on the planet – an amazing comeback to form in less than a year’s time. After missing last year's tournament with a knee injury, Nadal roared through the draw here, losing serve just four times (three times in this match) and showcasing a game that has put him on a fast track back toward the top. His perfect run here makes him 22-0 on hard courts this season.
"For a few reasons, this season is probably the most emotional one in my career," said Nadal. "I felt that I did everything right to have my chance here. ... I never thought something like this could happen."
Nadal collects $3.6 million in prize money for the win here, cashing in on the $1 million bonus afforded him for also winning this season's Emirates Airline US Open Series Bonus Challenge, matching the largest payout in US Open history set just one day ago by women’s singles winner (and women's Bonus Challenege winner) Serena Williams. It's the first time both winners of the Emirates Airline US Open Series have won the US Open as well.
THE QUESTION: Nadal's win was the 60th of his career and this US Open his 13th major title. Do you think the Spaniard can challenge Federer's all-time mark for Grand Slam singles wins?