Nerveless Nadal wins US Open
Updated: Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013 08:08
Ironman Rafael Nadal displayed nerves of steel to record a punishing four-set victory over Novak Djokovic to win the US Open.
While Djokovic was losing to Andy Murray in the final last year, Nadal was at home in Majorca resting his injured knee unsure whether he would ever be able to challenge for the title in New York again.
His comeback has been remarkable, with 10 trophies won and only three matches lost since February, and his 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory in New York was almost certainly the most satisfying of the lot.
Nadal has now won 13 grand slam titles - only four behind Roger Federer - while he and Djokovic have shared their six slam finals.
The Serbian stays number one in the world for now, but it will be virtually impossible for him to hang onto the spot for much longer.
Nadal said: "It's very emotional. Only my team knows how much this means to me. Playing against Novak is always very special - probably nobody brings my game to the limit like he does. I'm sure he will finish his career as one of the best in history."
No two men in the Open era have played each other more than Djokovic and Nadal.
Matches between the two have been defined by their brutal physicality, the two best exponents of defence in tennis going toe to toe.
At the Australian Open last year, the five sets lasted almost six hours, while their French Open semi-final in June was also a titanic struggle.
This was not quite on that level, although the second and third sets were superb.
Nadal had looked marginally the more impressive during the tournament and he was certainly so in a one-sided first set that took just 42 minutes - quick by their standards.
He has had to adopt a more aggressive approach to give his suspect knees some respite, and it has proved a winning formula on a surface previously considered his worst.
Djokovic had said before the match that he was confident because he knew how to play Nadal, but it did not look that way as he cast despairing glances to his support box.
But one thing that makes this rivalry so compelling is the extraordinary competitive spirit in both men, and Nadal would have known that Djokovic would find a way back in.
And so he did. The Serbian had been making too many unforced errors, which perhaps lulled Nadal into slicing his backhand more than he should have.
Djokovic forced two break points in the opening game of the second set as Nadal became distracted by spectators shouting during points - prompting his coach and uncle Toni to leave his seat and remonstrate with one serial offender.
Those went begging but Djokovic did break for a 4-2 lead after a 54-shot rally that was astonishing even by their rarefied standards. Djokovic raised his arms aloft and the crowd stood in unison to applaud.
The Serbian's high was short-lived as a poor game allowed Nadal to break straight back but Djokovic was the aggressive player now and he got his reward with another break to lead 5-3.
Nadal's serve had only been broken once before in the whole tournament, by Richard Gasquet in the semi-finals, so it was testament to Djokovic that he had managed it twice in a row.
And this time he held onto his advantage to clinch the set with a precision backhand winner down the line.
Nadal was on the ropes at the start of the third set, broken for a third successive time to love and having to save a break point to avoid going 3-0 down.
But, just as Nadal knew not to count his chickens when he appeared in total control, so Djokovic was all too aware that his rival is another man you never count out.
In truth, Nadal's comeback owed a lot to Djokovic, who played a poor game to be broken back for 3-3.
Even when the Spaniard was flat on his back, Djokovic still could not capitalise, Nadal slipping over to give up three break points in the ninth game but saving them all, the last with his first ace of the match.
And Nadal made sure his opponent regretted the missed opportunity fully by being completely clinical with his, curling another forehand winner down the line on his first set point.
It had been the key shot in the match, and the 27-year-old crouched and pumped his fist as he celebrated winning a set in which he had been very much second best.
Djokovic had another chance to break at the start of the fourth but again Nadal withstood the pressure, and with that went the world number one's chances as he faded badly.
A forehand into the net sealed Nadal's victory, and after shaking hands the Spaniard lay flat on his front sobbing into the court.