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Nadal wins 4th US Open, and weeps uncontrollably
MOMENTS after winning one of the most gruelling tennis matches of his life, Rafael Nadal sat in his chair, tears streaming down his face while the large video screen showed highlights of his remarkable career.
When the camera shifted to a live shot of Nadal watching the tribute, the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium roared and the Spaniard dropped his head into his hands. The trickle of tears turned into weeping.
Exhausted, overjoyed and relieved, the second-seed needed every bit of his fighter's spirit to overcome Daniil Medvedev, 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, in 4 hours, 50 minutes to win the US Open for the fourth time and capture his 19th Grand Slam title in utterly gripping fashion.
On the final point, a service return by Medvedev that sailed long, Nadal collapsed on his back, lay spread eagle for several moments and screamed into the night air.
One might think that winning so many major titles would become routine. But Nadal, 33, had to work as hard as he ever has, thanks to Medvedev's courageous comeback from being down two sets to none to force a fifth set. Afterward, Nadal called it one of the most emotional moments of his career.
It was also one of the most compelling US Open men's finals in recent years.
"The last three hours of the match were very, very intense, both mentally and physically," Nadal said. "At the end, with the video and the crowd, it was amazing. All these facts made the moment super special."
The 19 titles moved Nadal to within one of Roger Federer's men's record for major singles championships and raised the spectre that he could catch his 38-year-old rival as soon as next year.
For many years there was doubt about Nadal's ability to draw even with Federer, especially because he seemed injury prone. But durability has been a recent ally of Nadal's, and with his inexorable grip on the French Open, that doubt has been replaced by a whiff of inevitability.
In addition to his four US Opens, Nadal, aged 33, has won 12 French Opens, two Wimbledons and one Australian Open. He is five years younger than Federer. Novak Djokovic is not out of the picture, either. He has 16 major titles, and at 32 is the youngest of the group.
Medvedev, a 23-year-old Russian playing his first Grand Slam final, came ever so close to barging his way into the champions club. His pulsating effort on Sunday (Monday morning, Singapore time) transformed him, perhaps forever, from tournament villain to noble loser with a promising future.
During Medvedev's third-round match against Feliciano López, he was booed after he angrily snatched a towel from a ball person and then was shown on the court video screen gesturing with his middle finger. After that match, he taunted the ornery crowd by telling them its boos motivated him to win.
Medvedev is a frustrating opponent who capitalises on unpredictability with a variety of shots, mixing speeds, spins and drop shots along with a hard, flat backhand. But when he was down two sets and a service break in the third, the tactical thought foremost on his mind was how would he handle his postmatch loser's interview.
"I was thinking, 'OK, in 20 minutes I have to give a speech. What do I say?'" Medvedev recalled.
He ended up speaking nearly three hours later. After his earlier missteps, Medvedev eventually endeared himself to the New York fans, culminating in Sunday's thriller, and he told them that their positive support provided him with the incentive to keep fighting, no matter how daunting the challenge. "I knew I had to leave my heart out there for them," he said.
Playing with newfound abandon, he discovered a different gear, turning a potential rout into a battle of attrition. He broke back against the surprised Nadal and then held for 4-3.
Nadal had two break points at 4-4, but Medvedev fought them off, the highlight a 28-shot rally that took both players to and fro until Nadal hit a forehand into the net. That elicited cheers from the fans, who chanted Medvedev's name just a week after his brief villainous turn, and he rode the momentum almost until the very end of the match, which required 341 total points.
With Nadal serving at 5-6 in the third set, Medvedev won the first three points, including a sizzling forehand down the line at 0-15 that signalled his new aggressive intent and caused the crowd to erupt. Then, at 15-40, he charged in to hit a backhand winner and take the set.
In the fourth set, Medvedev started to serve-and-volley more to shorten rallies, but the set proceeded on serve until the 10th game. With Nadal serving at 4-5, Medvedev sealed the 52-minute set with a return winner, snapping a backhand down the line past an approaching Nadal.
Medvedev had chances to pull ahead early in the fifth set, earning three break points in Nadal's first service game, all of which Nadal saved by summoning his experience and strength. But he admitted he was worried about the outcome.
"I was in trouble," Nadal said. "But I really tried to avoid this thought."
Nadal broke Medvedev's for 3-2 and then went up 5-2, but the drama was not over. Nadal was called for a time violation and double-faulted on break point, giving Medvedev one last chance. Medvedev saved two match points and held for 4-5, and the match was on Nadal's racket again.
Nadal faced down a break point, and then at deuce he carved out a nervy forehand slice drop shot to give him his third match point. He fired a 200km/h serve that Medvedev returned long, and Nadal fell on his back for 12 long seconds.
All that was left was a well-earned handshake, a standing ovation for two worthy competitors, and some tears.
"This trophy means everything to me," Nadal said. "Personal satisfaction, the way that I resisted all these tough moments, is very high. I normally try to hold the emotions, but for all these facts, it was impossible today." NYTIMES