It took five sets and nearly five hours, and when it was finally over, Rafael Nadal lay on his back on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court and bathed in the raucous applause of the capacity crowd.
A match that at one point several hours earlier looked like it might end in routine fashion finished as an instant classic.
Nadal, the No. 2 seed, finally won his fourth U.S. Open and 19th major title with a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 5 seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who displayed huge guts in his first major final.
The match went 4 hours, 50 minutes in front of a spellbound capacity crowd that included Lindsey Vonn, P.K. Subban Johnny Damon.
In the last tennis major of the decade, Nadal closed to within one of Roger Federer’s men’s mark of 20 Slams. It’s entirely possible Nadal could tie and surpass Federer sometime in 2020. Nadal picked up $3.85 million for the win, while Medvedev took home $1.9 million.
“An amazing match, no? Since I had more or less the match under control,” Nadal said court. “First word I have to say to Daniil is his summer is one of the best summers I have ever in our sport since I started playing.”
Nadal, 33, also won his fifth major since turning 30, surpassing Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rod Laver Ken Rosewall, who all won four apiece. On the 50th anniversary of his second calendar Grand Slam, Laver presented Nadal with the trophy, left-hander to left-hander.
“First of all, I just want to congratulate Rafa,” Medvedev said. “A 19th Grand Slam title is something unbelievable, outrageous. What you’ve done for tennis in general, I think a hundred million kids watching want to play tennis. Thanks again for what you’ve done for our sport.”
For the second time in three years, Nadal won the Open without having to play Djokovic or Federer en route to the title. Two years ago, he beat Juan Martin del Potro in the semis and Kevin Anderson in the final.
The “Big Three” has now won 12 straight majors. The last man outside the trio to win a major was Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 U.S. Open. Nadal and Djokovic split the four majors of 2019, with Nadal winning the French Open and U.S. Open, and Djokovic taking the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Since 2004, only six men not named Djokovic, Federer Nadal have captured a major. Nadal improved to 9-1 in Grand Slam finals against men not named Djokovic and Federer.
“Of course, I would love to be the one who more Grand Slams, but I still sleep very well without being the one who more Grand Slams,” Nadal said Friday.
“I would love to be the one to have more, yes, but you cannot be all day frustrated or all day thinking about what’s your neighbor better than you. You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do your way. If you are the one to achieve more, fantastic. If not, at least I give my best during all my career. That’s all.”
Most Majors Men’s Tennis history:
Federer – 20
Nadal – 19
Djokovic – 16
Sampras – 14
Emerson – 12
Borg/Laver – 11 pic.twitter.com/y0M5ja5wx9
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) September 9, 2019
Medvedev entered the final with a tour-best 50 wins in 2019, with Nadal second at 46. Medvedev was playing in his fourth straight final, after reaching the final in Washington, D.C. Montreal and then winning Cincinnati.
Still, playing in the U.S. Open final is something entirely different. After going downs two sets and a break, it looked to all the world like the Russian had run out of gas after a long summer and would succumb in straight sets to the living legend. They had met just once, with the Spaniard putting a 6-3, 6-0 beating on the Russian in the finals in Montreal last month.
After summoning a tremendous effort to force a fifth set, he finally did. Nadal broke Medvedev in the fifth game with the backhand winner and then earned a double-break in the seventh game when Medvedev spanked an overhead deep on break point. Still, Medvedev broke back and then held, forcing Nadal to serve it out at 5-4.
After earlier taunting the crowd during several matches, Medevev once again reached out and made nice, crediting the fans with fueling his turnaround.
“In my mind, I was already OK what do I say in the speech?” he said of being two sets and a break down. “It’s going to be in 20 minutes. Losing in three sets in the first final. Fighting hard, but not really. I was like OK, I have got to fight for every ball and see how far it goes. It went far, ok, but it didn’t go far enough.”
“It’s because of your energy I was here in the final. You guys were pushing me to prolong this match because you want to see more tennis. Because of you, I was fighting like hell.”