Nadal in tears after five-hour epic
Rafael Nadal claimed his 19th Grand Slam championship and moved within one of Roger Federer's record by defeating Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 in the US Open final.
The 33-year-old Nadal was playing in his 27th major final but 23-year-old Medvedev - who was in his first - fought all the way in a classic encounter at Flushing Meadows.
The emotion of the occasion - and a highlight reel of his slam wins that played inside the stadium after he claimed match point - overwhelmed the Spanish star and tears rolled down his cheeks in a touching moment.
"It has to be one of the most emotional nights of my tennis career," Nadal said. "This victory means a lot and especially with the way the match became so difficult, so tough ... it has been a crazy match, no? I'm just emotional."
The contest began in controversial fashion as Nadal was hit with a time violation in his very first service game.
The Spanish star was clearly not happy and shook his head and took time to settle in a long game which saw Medvedev earn a break point opportunity.
US Open Rule:— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2019
Players have 25 seconds max between points. This time is displayed on the serve clock. Any violation results in a Time Violation. Since this is the first Time Violation offense, it results in a warning.
Nadal held, but Medvedev was feeling it early and after holding his serve he broke in the next game to take a 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately he woke the giant. Nadal immediately broke back to square it at 2-2 and didn't drop a single point in his next three service games to go ahead 5-4.
Nadal pushed hard in the next game, which included four deuce points, but the Russian held his nerve to level at 5-5.
The examination continued in Medvedev's next service game and this time he failed to pass the test as Nadal broke to take the first set 7-5 in 63 minutes.
Brilliant movement towards the net from Nadal. One of the best at it. Very smart. #usopen— Pat Cash (@TheRealPatCash) September 8, 2019
Despite seeing his man take the upperhand, Nadal's coach Carlos Moya wasn't overly pleased with what he was seeing.
"The match is too tactical, Rafa is forgetting to do what he does best," said Moya, adding Nadal appeared to have been impacted by the early umpiring intervention. "He's rushing too much (on serve) because he got a warning second point."
Nadal had only lost one grand slam final after winning the first set and looked on path to victory as both players held serve early in the second.
Medvedev survived three break point opportunities for Nadal in the fourth game of the set, but he was in trouble again in his next service game and this time the Spaniard took advantage to move ahead 4-2.
After a pair of holds, Medvedev worked his way to 15-30 as Nadal served for the set but couldn't convert and dropped it 6-3.
The number of quality shots you have to hit against Nadal just to win a point is absurd— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 8, 2019
It wasn't as though the Russian was playing poorly as he held serve early in the third.
As Aussie tennis legend Pat Cash noted: "Medvedev playing really well. But even when he wins long rallies he uses so much energy that it hurts him in the end. The great dilemma everyone faces when playing Nadal."
But the greatest grinder the sport has known just kept at him and Nadal broke in the fifth game of the set to go up 3-2.
Percentage of Medvedev's serves that have NOT been returned in the 2019 US Open— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 8, 2019
F 13% (Nadal)
Medvedev made a last-ditch effort to stay in the match in Nadal's next service game. He blew two break point opportunities after getting to 15-40, but Nadal missed a volley to open the door again and the Russian took it to square up at 3-3.
The rallies were getting more and more gruelling as Medvedev refused to go quietly and he held to love to go ahead 6-5.
He took his game to another level in the 12th game, breaking Nadal to secure the set 7-5 as he listened to the New York crowd chant "Med-ve-dev".
"Rafa seems more winded now than Medvedev," tennis legend John McEnroe said in commenatry for ESPN.
Medvedev's momentum continued in the fourth set as he made a crucial hold in the first game and then earned a break point on Nadal's serve.
He didn't convert but the match was definitely in the balance. "Nadal likes to fight but this has turned into a brawl," McEnroe said.
Nadal pressed hard in the fifth game and earned a break point at 30-40. But Medvedev made the bold decision to serve-and-volley on a second serve, forced a Nadal miss and escaped with a 3-2 lead.
Medvedev serve and volley attempts:— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 8, 2019
R1 + R2 + R3 + R4 + QF + SF =5
Final = 15 (and counting)#USOpen
Medvedev's tactical adjustment continued to pay dividends as he held for a 5-4 lead before gaining set point in the following game.
Nadal sent a swinging first serve wide to the Russian's backhand but he was up to the task, hitting a superb passing shot to square the match at two sets apiece.
The match took a stunning twist when the New York crowd objected to what it perceived as Nadal time-wasting when he went to get a new racquet while Medvedev was serving.
The crowd is really out here booing Nadal. Wow.— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) September 9, 2019
But Nadal didn't flinch and broke Medvedev in the fifth game - after a 28-shot rally on break point - before holding and breaking again to go ahead 5-2 and move to the cusp of victory.
The boos had well and truly turned to cheers as Nadal served for the championship, showing every ounce of fighting spirit to win a wild rally at 15-15.
But there was still time for more controversy as Nadal - serving at 30-40 - was called for his third time violation of the match and subsequently sent his second serve sailing way long to allow Medvedev to stay alive at 5-3.
"They put the serve clock in for a reason," McEnroe said. "There's no point having it if you're not going to use it. I hate to defend the umpire but this time he was right."
Medvedev stared down two match points in the ninth game and didn't blink to close to 5-4.
The Russian kept coming, earning a break point that would have made it 5-5, but Nadal resisted and earned a third championship point with a deft dropshot.
It was third time lucky as Medvedev failed to control a big serve down the centre to fall just short.
Fabio Fognini remains the only man to rally from two sets down to beat Nadal (209-1).— Danny Ventura (@BostonHeraldHS) September 9, 2019
Medvedev had never been past the fourth round at any Grand Slam tournament until this one.
He has been terrific on hard courts in recent weeks, going 20-2 and reaching four finals in a row. One of those came against Nadal, who beat the Russian in straight sets at the Montreal Masters in August.