Amidst the New York twilight on Monday night, a jubilant Rafael Nadal beat his great rival Novak Djokovic in four sets to secure his second career US Open crown and his 13th major.
Flushing Meadows hosted a fitting finale in the 2013 grand slam calendar as the rivalry between the pair officially became the most extensive in men’s tennis—their 37th battle and another enthralling encounter ensued between the two.
The culmination of the latest Four Kings chapter saw the Majorcan drop to the Arthur Ashe stadium’s surface and weep as he completed an unlikely comeback. His US Open triumph results in him firmly closing in on tennis’ all-time greats of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer (14 and 17 major wins respectively).
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Nadal said:
“I never thought something like this could happen. I was so excited to be back on tour trying to be competitive. I never thought about competing for all that I competed for this year. All the Masters 1000s, two grand slams. It’s just more than a dream for me, and I’m very happy for everything. I feel very lucky about what’s happened since I came back.”
Nadal endured a frustrating end to 2012 and his rehabilitation in 2013 began very slowly. From the sidelines, the former World No 1 saw Djokovic cement his place at the top of the tree, plus Britain’s Andy Murray finally engraved his name in a couple of grand slam trophies.
There were initially doubts as to whether the 27-year-old could ever return to his scintillating best. But in New York on Monday night, Nadal defied conventional wisdom, rolling back the years with a trademark ruthless performance.
It was difficult not to envisage his trainer, uncle Toni, taking a similar stance to the foul-mouthed fictional Hollywood agent Ari Gold, who told his chief star Vinnie Chase, “This town loves a comeback, and since Britney f*cked hers up, it’s all you!”
Nadal had it all to do. And he did—masterfully. Considering the Spaniard’s historical domination of the red matter, a record eighth title at the French Open took no-one by surprise. Yet, only a few weeks later at Wimbledon, his comeback story hit a significant speed bump when, for the first time in his decorated career, he was eliminated in the opening round of a grand slam tournament with rumours circulating his knee was not up to scratch.
Despite his disappointment of a first round defeat, at the hands of world no. 135 Steve Darcis of Belgium, it merely proved a catalyst to an incredible 22-0 record on America’s unforgiving hard courts—climaxing in toppling the Djoker in the Big Apple.
With two slams to his name this year and an unbeaten hard court season behind him, Nadal is likely to reclaim the World No. 1 ranking from Djokovic. His next priority should be to eclipse Federer’s all-time grand slam tournament haul of 17.
After his comeback at the US Open, who could bet against it.