Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rafael Nadal Wins U.S. Open, Completes Career Grand Slam

Rafael Nadal Wins U.S. Open, Completes Career Grand Slam
Hal Spivack

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain made history on Monday night, defeating No. 3-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to claim his first career U.S. Open title at Flushing Meadows and complete the career Grand Slam. Nadal joins the group of Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Don Budge and Fred Perry to complete the career Grand Slam.

The match had to withstand an approximate two-hour rain delay on Monday in the second set when Nadal was leading 6-4, 4-4 (30-30). This came after rain wiped the match out on Sunday, forcing the tournament to be completed on a Monday for the third straight year.

Finally, the 24-year-old Spaniard completes his trophy case, claiming the only Grand Slam that eluded his young and unrivaled Open Era career. Nadal is only the seventh player in the history of men's tennis and the second youngest to attain the career Grand Slam. Other than Nadal, only Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have completed the career Grand Slam in the Open Era. Nadal is also the first male player since Rod Laver's calendar-year Grand Slam in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in the same year.

Arguably playing the best tennis of his life, Nadal only dropped one set all tournament, which came in the second set of the final against Djokovic. Nadal's serve was fantastic all tournament, only dropping five service games with three of them coming in the final against the 23-year-old Serb.

Djokovic, who was making his second career U.S. Open final appearance, played well at times and gave Nadal his toughest match of the Open. However, the Spaniard proved too tough -- eventually breaking Djokovic at crucial moments in the match to prevail.

"I think for the first time in my career I played a very, very good match in this tournament," Nadal said. "That's my feeling. I played my best match in the U.S. Open out there at the most important moment."

Nadal took the first set, and Djokovic came out powerful to claim the second set after the rain delay. But Djokovic played his best tennis to close out the second set and didn't have enough energy left to compete with the fitter Nadal. When Djokovic began going on the offensive in the end of the second set, it looked like it was working to his advantage until Nadal toughened his defense up to start the third set.

Djokovic started to pull his groundstrokes wide and Nadal's defense was impenetrable to start the third set. Djokovic's barrage of unforced errors allowed Nadal to claim a crucial break and go up 2-1 in the third set. Nadal eventually took the set off that crucial break 6-4.

The fourth set unfolded in a similar fashion. Nadal's serve was too tough and Djokovic was never able to garner any constant momentum. Nadal broke Djokovic in the third game of the fourth set to go up 2-1. The Serb was overpowered and exhausted by the end of the match. Nadal did not relinquish and finished Djokovic off in four sets, ending the match with only 31 unforced errors, 16 less than his opponent. Nadal won championship point, fell down, and embraced the hard court on Ashe that frustrated him for so many years.

Nadal has now won nine Grand Slam titles -- including this year's French Open and Wimbledon -- as he inches closer to Roger Federer's record of 16 Grand Slam tournaments.

Djokovic chimed in on the Federer-Nadal debate following Monday's loss, "Yeah, look, we cannot judge who is better on one tournament, you know. At this point there is, you know, five, six years' difference between them, and basically Federer had more years on the tour, he had more success; he has more trophies. He's definitely somebody who made history in this sport. He's still playing as one of the best players in the world."

In fact, Nadal now has three more majors than Federer -- arguably the greatest tennis player of all time -- had to his name at Nadal's age.

Djokovic did not get into details after his semifinal win against Federer regarding Nadal one day being the best of all time. But he did speak to the topic after the match on Monday, "Definitely. He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever. I think he's playing the best tennis that I ever seen him play on hardcourts. He has improved his serve drastically. The speed, the accuracy, and of course his baseline is as good as ever."

Nadal has reworked his serve's grip over the year, now serving both his first and second serve with more speed, spin and precision than ever before.

Federer, still playing at a high level at 29 years of age, will continue to try and build on his 16 Grand Slams. Federer noted earlier in the summer that he is targeting 20 Grand Slams before he retires. He had a successful summer on hard court, winning the Cincinnati Masters and finishing runner-up at the Toronto Masters. He also won this year's first major in Australia and finished a semifinalist at the U.S. Open.

Although Nadal doesn't get caught up with trying to catch Federer, he leaves Flushing Meadows with a full trophy case and only Federer's total tally to chase now.

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