Sunday, September 8, 2019

Nadal wins epic battle for title, nears Federer record

Rafael Nadal, shown in 2017, beat Daniil Medvedev in straight sets today for
his second Grand Slam title of the year and 19th overall. Photo by Mal Taam
   Look out, Roger. Rafa is gaining ground fast.
   Rafael Nadal moved within one of Roger Federer's record 20 Grand Slam singles titles today, holding off gutsy Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in the U.S. Open.
   The scintillating battle of wills lasted 4 hours, 50 minutes in front of a boisterous crowd at 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. No matter how bleak the situation looked for Medvedev, he would not give up. Nadal, meanwhile, was as tenacious as ever.
   "It was an amazing final," Nadal, who collected $3.85 million, said during the awards ceremony. "I had more or less the match under control. Daniil had one of the best summers I ever saw. Tonight, everybody saw why he (will be) No. 4 in the world already at 23. The way he was able to fight and change the rhythm of the match was just incredible.
   "It's difficult to speak. It's one of the most emotional nights of my tennis career."
   Nadal, 33, is five years younger than Federer. Then there's Novak Djokovic, who ranks third with 16 major crowns at age 32.
   Nadal and Djokovic earned two major singles titles apiece this year. The last man other than Federer, Nadal or Djokovic to win a Grand Slam singles title was Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 U.S. Open.
   Nadal collected $3.85 million after winning his second U.S. Open title in three years and fourth overall. Seeded second, he ended Medvedev's winning streak at 12 matches.
   The fifth-seeded Medvedev fell to 20-3 since Wimbledon, including a 6-3, 6-0 loss to Nadal in the Montreal final in their only previous meeting. Medvedev won his first Masters 1000 title last month in Cincinnati, upsetting the top-ranked Djokovic in the semifinals.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.97-meter) Medvedev played in his first Grand Slam final. He became the first Russian to reach the U.S. Open title match since Marat Safin stunned Pete Sampras in 2000.
   Safin was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016. His countryman, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, entered the Hall of Fame this year.
   Medvedev, who will rise one notch to No. 4 on Monday, is part of a long-awaited new wave of Russian men that also includes No. 9 Karen Khachanov, 23, and No. 43 Andrey Rublev, 21.
   Rublev reached the quarterfinals in Cincinnati as a qualifier, surprising Wawrinka and Federer before losing to Medvedev, and the fourth round of the U.S. Open, ousting eight-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round and 28th-seeded Nick Kyrgios in the third round.
   Nadal ran Medvedev from side to side with his punishing groundstrokes, many of which Medvedev retrieved, in the first 2 1/2 sets before Medvedev somehow summoned the energy to rebound.
   Medvedev, who was booed last week after snatching a towel from a ballperson and tossing his racket, was cheered by the crowd for his hustle, heart and perseverance.
   When Nadal broke serve to lead 3-2 in the third set, it appeared he was on his way to a straight-set victory.
   "To be honest, in my mind, I was already, 'OK, what do I say in the speech? It's going to be soon, in 20 minutes, losing in three sets in (my first major) final,'" said Medvedev, who earned $1.9 million. "So I was like, 'OK, I have to fight for every ball and see how it goes.' It went far, huh? Unfortunately, it didn't go my way."
   Medvedev broke right back and again in the last game of the set. He scored the only break of the fourth set, also in the final game, to level the match.
   Nadal saved two break points to hold for 1-1 in the fifth set. Medvedev served at 2-2, 40-0, but Nadal broke with a backhand cross-court passing shot off a backhand drop shot by Medvedev.
   Nadal broke again for 5-2, but Medvedev broke right back and saved two championship points to hold for 4-5. Nadal then held serve, converting his third championship point with a service winner.
   Earlier today, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won their first Grand Slam title, separately or together. Seeded fourth, they beat eighth-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7-5, 7-5.
   Sabalenka, 21, recently split with coach Dmitry Tursunov, a 36-year-old Moscow native who trained in Northern California as a junior and professional, after 15 months.

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