Shining under the lights: Nadal edges Medvedev in New York classic
Rafael Nadal further etched his name into the tennis history books on Sunday as he held firm against future contender Daniil Medvedev to a claim a fourth US Open crown and 19th grand slam overall, Alex Grant reports.
In a final that will live long in the memory it was the legendary Spaniard who finally came out on top against the 23-year-old Russian winning 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 after four hours and 51 minutes of action. Victory sees Nadal close to within one major title of great rival Roger Federer’s all time record of 20.
Nadal came into the match as the overwhelming favourite after the exit of Djokovic and Federer in the earlier rounds but faced the most in-form player on the ATP Tour with the Russian playing in his fourth final in a row. The first set was a largely tense and tight affair with both men trading an early break each but as the set drew towards what looked an inevitable tiebreak it was Nadal who stepped things up to break the Russian and secure the opener 7-5.
Only once before has Nadal lost a slam final from winning the opening set and that trend looked set to continue when Nadal with one break in hand served out the second set 6-3 to put himself just one set away from glory.
And upon the Spaniard breaking to lead 3-2 in the third it seemed to be all but over that was until an uncharacteristically loose service game from the 33-year-old allowed Medvedev to level the set at 3-3 and the Russian was quick to seize his opportunity.
From there Medvedev could seemingly do no wrong as everything the young Russian, playing in his first major final, touched seemed to turn to gold and within a set and a half the match had been completely turned on its head and as Medvedev hit another winner past a helpless Nadal to secure the fourth. A match that had seemed so one sided barely an hour previous was suddenly heading for a fifth and deciding set with Nadal left shrugging his shoulders in the direction of his player box seemingly at a loss as to where and how the match had gone so wrong so suddenly.
As the fifth set got underway Nadal looked to be on the verge of collapse as Medvedev advantaged by serving first quickly held to 15 to get his name on the board before opening up a 15-40 lead on the Spaniard’s serve. This time, however, it was the Spaniard’s turn to show his fighting qualities saving both but a badly miscued volley gifted the Russian another break point opportunity and a clearly rattled Nadal soon found himself facing it without a first serve as the umpire handed the Spaniard a time violation and a loss of first serve for failing to stick to the time mandated by the stop-clock.
Such a call, on such a point would be enough to unsettle most but you don’t win as many majors as the Spaniard without thick skin. As the crowd booed, Nadal stayed calm; simply tossing the ball he was holding to the side, curving in a second delivery before bulleting a trademark in-to-out forehand into the far corner to avert the danger. Two points later and the game was his with a timely first serve followed by a trademark Rafa roar.
The final set was now perfectly poised at 1-1 with Nadal serving a timely reminder to his young opponent that he was up for the fight and was ready to go all the way.
The pair then traded holds of serve before at 2-2 Nadal made his move successfully breaking Medvedev, in a game in which the Russian had led 40-0, to lead 3-2 and put the fate of the final back in his hands whilst serving a timely reminder just what can be achieved by never giving up on any point or any game.
This time Nadal did what he failed to do at the same stage in the third successfully backing up his break with a hold of serve and the match was soon very much in Nadal’s hands as he secured the double break to lead 5-2 leaving him to serve out for a fourth US Open title.
Medvedev wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet, however, as he gained one of the breaks back as Nadal once more failed to see the match out. The Russian then held, saving two championship points in the process and suddenly from 5-2 it was 5-4 with Nadal having one more chance to serve out for victory.
Clearly keen to escape the Medvedev fight back unscathed the Spaniard understandably looked nervous and soon found himself once more facing a break point at 30-40 only to once more step up his play. First producing another big forehand to bring the game level at deuce before a beautifully, delicate drop shot gave Nadal his third championship point, a first on his serve.
A memorable victory was secured as Medvedev’s return flew long with Nadal, in trademark fashion, collapsing to the ground with his arms outstretched underneath the New York night sky. And as an exhausted Nadal dropped into his chair after, footage of his now 19 grand slam victories played on the big screens of Arthur Ashe Stadium and the great champion was reduced to tears.
Speaking after the match the Spaniard spoke of his emotions:
“This trophy means everything to me today,” said Nadal who has now improved to a 47-6 win-loss record this season.
“Personal satisfaction of the way that I resisted all these tough moments is very high. The emotions have been there watching all the success, all the moments that came to my mind in that moment. Yeah, I tried to hold the emotion, but some moments was impossible.”
Nadal was also predictably reluctant to talk at length about now sitting just one short of Federer’s grand slam record of 20, admitting that whilst it is a record he would love to have he can’t think too much about it:
“You can’t be all day looking next to you about if one having more or one having little bit less because you will be frustrated,” commented Nadal.
“All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream.
“I would love to be the one who have more. But I really believe that I will not be happier or less happy if that happens or not.”
Victory also leaves Nadal very much in the hunt to claim the year-end number one spot for what would be the fifth time in his career although, with his wedding to long-time girlfriend Mery Perello planned for next month, it remains to be seen how many tournaments the great Spaniard will choose to play between now and the season ending World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena.