|Rafael Nadal becomes the seventh tennis man to complete the set of Tennis Grand Slam titles. [GALLO/GETTY]
Rafael Nadal sealed his place among the tennis greats on Monday, beating Novak Djokovic to win the US Open and complete his collection of grand slam titles.
Rain delayed the match for two hours, which distracted the Spaniard to lose the second and only set. But he soon came back into the game to beat Djokovic 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2 after three hours and 43 minutes of unrelenting tension at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was the only set loss by Nadal in the 22 sets he has played in New York this year, as he came so close to becoming the first man in half a century to win this tournament without dropping a set.
Nadal 'too good'
Although Djokovic took that set, Nadal eventually proved too tough, too swift and too good even at the US Open standards.
Djokovic, a Serbian, acknowledged that: “Nadal is just proving each day, each year, that he's getting better. That's what's so frustrating, a little bit. He's getting better each time you play him. He's so mentally strong and dedicated to this sport. He has all the capabilities, everything he needs, in order to be the biggest ever.”
Djokovic, who had beaten Roger Federer in an exhausting five-set semi-final Saturday, removed any doubts about his fighting qualities with a courageous performance. He fought off an astonishing 20 break points during the course of the match, but the pressure eventually wore him down.
After losing the second set on a sloppy service game, Nadal ran away with the last two. He finally claimed victory when Djokovic hit a forehand wide. He collapsed on court as the enormity of his achievement sank in.
Nadal had already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon singles titles and by adding the US Open he joined Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer as the only men to win the four majors.
At 24, he is the third youngest to achieve the feat and his best may be still to come.
Nadal became the first man since Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in the same year. Now he has the chance to hold all four concurrently, the ‘Rafa Slam’ if he can add the Australian Open in January, something that has not been achieved either since Laver.
With nine grand slam titles in total including five French Open, two Wimbledon, one Australian Open and now one US Open, Federer's record of 16 could be within his reach if he stays healthy.
Now he's the first left-hander to win the US Open since John McEnroe in 1984, and the first Spaniard since Manuel Orantes in 1975.
Hard court challenge
The hard court of US Open had always been Nadal's biggest challenge because of the wear and tear it puts on his troublesome knees. However, Nadal arrived in New York this year, fresher than ever and armed with a new and improved serve that enabled him to sail through his opening matches without fuss.
On the other hand, Djokovic has always been at his best on hard courts. He made the final at Flushing Meadows in 2007, losing to Federer, then won the Australian Open the following season. On this occasion, his opponent, the World Number One simply outclassed him.
Upon winning the final, Nadal said: “That's more than what I dreamt, it's just amazing to be here in this final, just to arrive in this final. To have this trophy here in a few seconds, with my hands, is gonna be unbelievable."
At the trophy presentation, Djokovic said: “I would first like to congratulate Rafa and his team for an amazing tournament, right now he's the best player in the world and he absolutely deserves this title. Well done again.”
“He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever. I think he's playing the best tennis that I've ever seen him play on hard courts. He has improved his serve drastically, the speed, the accuracy. And, of course, his baseline (game) is as good as ever.'”