It was a nerve-racking battle between two of the world’s best players, but there was no greater test than at 4-4 in the fourth set of Saturday’s U.S. Open final. On a somber Sunday morning in Flushing Meadows, the Houston Texans’ football anthem blared over the loudspeakers, and Nadal took a knee.
“I had every chance to finish it before then,” the 29-year-old Spaniard said. “I hope to try to enjoy it another day.
An hour and a half later, Nadal defeated the 28-year-old Serb for his 10th Grand Slam title and a seventh championship in the U.S. Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 victory secured Nadal’s status as the second-oldest Open champion in men’s tennis history.
“I needed this victory,” Nadal said. “I needed to change some things. I made some mistakes, but I could manage in the end.”
Although Djokovic remains the sport’s dominant figure, Nadal’s 2017 season has been unmatched. After beginning the year with his first ranking outside the top five in almost a decade, Nadal has climbed to No. 2, winning the French Open and U.S. Open this year. He has not lost a set in either tournament.
In the men’s final, he sent the first point of the second set to go to deuce. Djokovic had an early break point of his own, but Nadal struck back immediately and never let him off the hook. Nadal was in complete control from that point on, and another break gave him a commanding 5-2 lead, which he used to take the second set.
Djokovic, meanwhile, was up 0-30 in the third set before crumpling to the court. While a trainer attended to him, Nadal rallied to hit a return winner, building his momentum to close out the set.
Djokovic managed to break Nadal again in the fourth set, and the two held serve for the duration of the game. But despite holding four match points at 2-5, Nadal held and eventually secured the victory, breaking Djokovic to win the match and the $2.48 million winner’s check.
“Today was an extremely emotional match, both in the beginning and the end,” Nadal said. “I was in a good position on the court, and I needed to play my best tennis.
“Maybe today, more than any other day, I was not ready to finish the match. But we did, and I’m very pleased with the way I played in those moments.”