New York, 9 September 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Rafael Nadal defended the honour of the old guard in men’s tennis on Sunday when he barely survived an epic fightback from Daniil Medvedev, 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, for a fourth US Open title.
World number two Nadal won a thriller against the young Russian challenger in 4 hours 50 minutes in front of a frenetic crowd of almost 24,000 in the packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 33-year-old Spaniard, who earlier led by two sets and a break, hung on to claim a 19th grand slam title, just one less than record holder Roger Federer, and he is expected to fight for more next year, when Federer will turn 39.
Nadal’s previous US Open titles came in 2010, 2013 and 2017.
Sunday’s victory gives the big three of Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic a 12th straight title at the majors and a 55th overall. Federer lost and Djokovic retired injured in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows.
But the 23-year-old fifth seed Medvedev showed that the young generation, which also includes the likes of Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and German Alexander Zverev, is banging loudly on the door.
Medvedev was the first of them to make a grand slam final and only just failed to cap a remarkable summer run with what would have been his biggest career success – after reaching the finals in Washington and Montreal and then winning the Cincinnati Masters.
“It was a crazy match,” Nadal said at the trophy presentation. “I had the match more or less under control. But his summer is one of the best I have ever seen. The way he fought and changed the rhythm was incredible.
“This victory means a lot to me especially because the match became so difficult, and I managed to hold my nerve.”
Medvedev, who will rise to a career-high fourth Monday, said: “For the first two sets I was kind of close, but at the same time Rafa was a beast out there.
“I felt like everything I do, he has an answer. So I was continuing to try something, to find something new. I was going to the net sometimes, doing some drop-shots, some slice. I tried everything.”
Looking at his great past weeks, he added: “All this summer is amazing for me. I will remember every moment of it. I have a really good memory if we talk about tennis. I’ll definitely remember it even when I’m 70 years old.”
Nadal had clobbered the Russian 6-3, 6-0 in the Montreal decider, but Sunday’s second meeting was a much tighter affair and saw many sensational points, ranging from 69 rallies of more than nine shots to both players coming to the net on a staggering combined 141 occasions.
Medvedev won break point in the opening game, in which the notoriously slow server Nadal also received a time violation and fired a sensational winner around the net post, but saved it with a service winner.
Nadal took the first set in 62 minutes with a 12th-game break, served out the second after a sixth-game break and broke for 3-2 in the third for what appeared to be a rather quick decision.
But Medvedev somehow found the energy to roar right back a game later, survived two break points in a sensational ninth game, and pulling a set back a game later came back with a stunning forehand winner down the line.
“In my mind I was OK. I was thinking what will I say in my speech in about 20 minutes. I will try to give it a fight, fight for a good ball,” Medvedev said.
The crowd really got into it now, chanting each player’s name and seeing both waste early break points. But Medvedev suddenly found himself at three set points in the 10th against Nadal’s serve, and converted the second with a sensational return to lock the sets.
Nadal broke for 3-2 with a brilliant forehand winner in a 28-stroke rally, then ran away to 5-2 but it still wasn’t over.
Medvedev broke back instantly when Nadal had a first serve taken away for a third-time violation and netted the second, saved two match points in the next game to hold for 5-4 down, and even had a break point for 5-5.
But Nadal eventually succeeded, setting up the third match point with a jaw-dropping drop-shot from baseline and then throwing himself onto the ground in exhaustion and delight when Madvedev’s return fell long.
“This was one of the most emotional nights in my career with all the support. It was an amazing energy, incredible noise,” Nadal said.
“These kind of matches in the final of a grand slam makes the match more special. The way that the match became very dramatic at the end, that makes this day unforgettable, part of my history of this sport.
“This trophy means everything to me today. Personal satisfaction the way that I resisted all these tough moments is very high. Just I normally try to hold the emotions, but at the end for all these facts have been impossible today.”
Medvedev, who was booed for his antics in early rounds, said: “It is because of your energy I was here in the final. Tonight is going to be always on my mind. I played on the biggest court, you pushed me to prolong the match and because of you I was fighting like hell.”
“I want to congratulate Rafa, 19 slams is unbelievable and outrageous,” he said.