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U.S. Open title makes Rafael Nadal player of the year ... and beyond?

Rafael Nadal outplays Novak Djokovic to win second major this year and 13th overall, third all time and only four behind Roger Federer.

September 09, 2013|By Diane Pucin
  • Rafael Nadal gives the winner's trophy a bite after defeating Novak Djokovic in the men's singles final at the U.S. Open on Monday night in New York.
Rafael Nadal gives the winner's trophy a bite after defeating Novak… (David Goldman / Associated…)

NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal fell to the court once. Then he stood up. Then he fell down again. Maybe they were separate tumbles for each of his U.S. Open titles.

Nadal, the popular 27-year-old Spaniard, decisively defeated No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, to win his second U.S. Open title and his 13th Grand Slam tournament championship.

"Very, very emotional, no?" said Nadal, who missed this tournament last year because of knee problems. "Probably only my team knows how much this means for me."

The consensus Monday night was that Nadal's victory means he is the player of the year in men's tennis, even though the No. 2-ranked Spaniard is unlikely to dislodge Djokovic from the top spot in the ATP tour computer rankings.

Djokovic had won the season's first Slam event, the Australian Open, in January, beating Andy Murray in the final. Nadal won his eighth French Open title in June. Four weeks later Murray won at Wimbledon, where Nadal shockingly lost in the first round.

Monday's triumph made Nadal the only man with two major titles this year. And with 13 overall, he is within one of Pete Sampras, whose 14 majors rank second all time behind Roger Federer's 17.

Nadal came into the final with a 21-0 record on hard courts this year. He also was 21-15 in his career against the 26-year-old Djokovic before Monday. However, the Serbian won four of their last five matches played on hard courts.

In other words, there was little to choose between the two best players in the world.

"I want to congratulate Rafa and his team," Djokovic said. "He was too good. Obviously disappointing to lose a match like this. I'll be definitely coming back next year."

Nadal earned $2.6 million. And, as was the case for Serena Williams a night earlier, he earned an extra $1 million for winning the summer series of hard-court events.

After Djokovic had played a punishing five-set semifinal against Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday, it seemed that whatever advantage there was to be had would belong to Nadal, whose semifinal was a routine three-setter over Richard Gasquet.

But for the first time in Open history, the men's final was deliberately scheduled on Monday night, giving the participants a rest day. The change was made after much complaining from the men who, in this major only, had to play the semifinals on Saturday and the final Sunday.

Nadal jumped on top quickly, breaking Djokovic's serve in the first game and winning the first set in 42 minutes.

But Djokovic got back in the match by winning the second set, mostly by moving Nadal around with his wicked backhand. And the Serb got his first lead in the match with an early service break in the third set. But Nadal broke back to get the match back on serve.

A key moment arrived at 4-4 in the third, when Djokovic took a love-40 lead on Nadal's serve. The Spaniard saved all three break points, won that game, then broke Djokovic in the next game to take the set, 6-4. The 20,000-plus fans in Ashe Stadium came to their feet on the changeover between sets.

Later, Djokovic regretted the events of the crucial third set.

"It was disappointing," he said. "It was my fault. I made some unforced errors in crucial moments and dropped serve twice when I should not have. Next thing you know, it's two sets to one and he's playing much, much better and I could not recover."

Nadal said, "Probably nobody brings my game to that limit like Novak does. I'm sure he'll finish his career as one of the best."

Nadal immediately converted a break point with a forehand winner to start the fourth set, and built from there. He held his serve for 2-0 and broke at 15 for a 3-0 lead, an advantage that seemed to take the fight, finally, from Djokovic.

Twitter: @mepucin

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