Rafael Nadal won the U.S. Open on Monday evening, completing a remarkable run punctuated by resolve, resilience and relentless focus.
The victory, Nadal’s second at the U.S. Open, completes a perfect 22-0 season on hard courts that came a year after a knee injury sidelined him and caused him to consider whether he should skip hard-court competition altogether. He did not and now stands at an amazing place: Four Grand Slam wins away from Roger Federer’s record of 17 and closing in on Pete Sampras at 14.
“Let me enjoy today,” Nadal joked after beating Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. “For me is much more than what I ever thought, what I ever dreamed. I said that when I had a few Slams less, but is true.”
The record shows that, at 27, he has won eight French Opens, two Wimbledons, and an Australian Open as well. He also has a winning record against each of his major rivals.
What’s truly distinguishing, though, is what Nadal had to do to get to this place. From SI.com’s S.L. Price:
Tennis has never seen a comeback like his: After missing seven months with a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee, Nadal returned in February rested and ready for a grind that, by summer’s end, has traditionally left him spent or broken. His career winning percentage drops significantly — 87 to 77 percent — in matches played after the French-Wimbledon campaign; yet this year, to go along with his usual clay dominance, he won Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati and carried a 21-0 record on hard courts into Monday’s showdown.
“That’s insane,” seven-time Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander said. “It’s unbelievable. But the important thing to understand with Rafa is that he’s going to play himself into the ground — again. And then he’s going to come back and play himself into the ground again. He’s always going to come back, and people are going to say the same thing every time.”
Nadal now stands on the brink of creating an “all-courts monarchy,” the New York Times’ Harvey Araton writes:
If Roger Federer has been tennis’s Tiger Woods, inspiring awe, then Nadal has been its Phil Mickelson, seemingly unencumbered by the weight of it all. He will not even go so far as to say that his generation of players, almost universally credited for raising the qualitative bar, is more special than any other.
“I don’t like to talk about a part of the history of tennis where I am involved because it’s going to sound very arrogant if I say this era is great,” he said in Montreal at the start of his hardcourt season. “We had a lot of fantastic years in tennis. I think this era is special because the best players of the world have the ability to be in the final rounds of most of the tournaments. That’s created a lot of classic matches, good battles.”
After his victory, he was embraced by the queen of Spain and, Tuesday morning, ESPN dropped his new “SportsCenter” ad.