This one seemed a bit more special. Winning the French Open earlier this year on his favored clay, as he had already done seven times before, showed he was back on course after seven months out with a left-knee injury. The same might be said of the eight other, more minor, titles he has picked up in 2013. But Rafa Nadal had only won the US Open once before — in 2010 to complete his career Grand Slam — and his thrilling four-set victory over Novak Djokovic on the hard court of the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Monday night to take his second showed he is more than just the king of clay: he is a multi-faceted player; he is well and truly back; and he might just be playing the best tennis of his life.
The way the Mallorcan collapsed sobbing to the floor after sealing the 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win paid testament to the effort it has taken him to come this far. “For a few things this season is probably the most emotional one in my career,” Nadal said afterwards. “I felt that I did everything right to have my chance here. It means a lot for me to have this trophy. It is just amazing.”
Nadal started the stronger of the two and took the first set before Djokovic bit back hard in the second, breaking the Spaniard’s serve for the first time following an incredible 54-shot rally, the longest of the tournament.
The Serbian continued his run of form in the second and had a chance to get the double break and go 0-3 up in the third before it came to a halt. Suddenly he found himself 4-3 down. The turning point came at 4-4 when at 0-40 up on the Nadal serve, Djokovic looked poised to take the third set. Not only did the Mallorcan save all three break points and win the game, but also immediately broke the world number one to snatch the set. From then on, his opponent demoralized, Nadal dominated, allowing Djokovic only one game in the fourth set as he marched to his 13th Grand Slam victory.
“Probably only my team knows how much [this win] means for me,” said Nadal, who watched Andy Murray win last year’s final on television at home injured.
“Playing against Novak always is a very special feeling. Probably nobody brings my game to that limit like Novak did,” he added.
“All the credit to him,” conceded Djokovic. “I had my momentum from midway second set to the end of the third where I was supposed to use and realize the opportunities that were presented to me, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t deserve to win in the end.”
Nadal is now number one in the world in all but name and could regain the top spot from the Serbian if he manages to reach the semifinals of the China Open in Beijing, his next ATP tournament after returning to Spain’s Davis Cup team for its match against Ukraine this weekend.
Nadal’s second title at Flushing Meadows also puts him third on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners, one behind Pete Sampras and four behind Roger Federer’s 17.
It is also marks his 60th tournament win and now the Swiss ace’s haul of 77 titles, which sounded unreachable, suddenly doesn’t seem so far away for the 27-year-old.
One thing is for sure: the Mallorcan is continuing to knock down barriers, break records and achieve what seems like the impossible.