Nadal has 19… for now

Rafael Nadal outlasted Daniil Medvedev in the US Open Final. Rafa now has 19 Grand Slam titles.

Rafael Nadal posing with his 2019 US Open trophy©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alix Ramsay

The future is galloping towards us and it is coming in the shape of Daniil Medvedev, but for the present, Rafael Nadal is standing his ground.

Ripping up the record books and playing like a man possessed, he won his fourth US Open trophy on Saturday, taking four hours and 50 minutes to beat the Russian, to defend against the constant barrage of attacks, the sinew-snapping rallies and the nerve fraying tension, until finally he joined John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in the Big Four Club: the only men to have won four US Open titles.

For the King of Clay, this was an achievement beyond measure.

Emotional Rafael Nadal after his win at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“I was able to hold nerves“

It was also his 19th Grand Slam title, putting him right on the heels of Federer for the position of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Federer has 20 but Federer has a sore back and is back home in Switzerland. Rafa is standing proud in the centre of New York as the new champion.

Occasionally, there are a few tears when Rafa wins a major title. But only for a moment, just for the sheer relief that the two weeks of pressure are over. This time, though, he could not stop the sobbing.

He was crying when he tried to salute the crowd, he kept breaking down as a video marking all 19 of his Grand Slam successes was shown to the crowd. They, in response, cheered and hollered and chanted his name. It was all too much for a quiet, polite boy from Mallorca.

“It has been one of the most emotional nights in my career,” he said, “with that video, with all the support of you guys have been just amazing.

“[To win four titles here] that’s so important for me. This victory means a lot especially the way that this match became so difficult, so tough. I was able to hold, at the end, the nerves because the nerves were so high after having the match almost under control then 5-2, 5-4, break point, so have been a crazy match. I don’t know… just emotional.”

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev at the net at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Nadal knows what it takes

Ah, yes. The rollercoaster ride that was the five sets of the final. After a tight first set, the world No.2 seemed to be on his way to a competitive, if predictable, victory.

Medvedev was doing what he could but Nadal was too strong, too clever in the crisis moments. And then, just when he seemed to heading for the finish line in the third set, Nadal missed a smash on break point. From that moment on, he looked tense and Medvedev took flight.

Where just 20 minutes before, the Russian had looked tired and troubled, now he was hitting winners, he had fresh wind in his sails and he was pushing Nadal all over the court. He reeled in one set, he reeled in two sets and he had three break points on the Nadal serve at the start of the fifth.

Yet that is what sets great champions apart from mere winners. Medvedev is still learning his trade (although he is learning it at double quick pace); Nadal knows what it takes to win the biggest trophies in the game.

Daniil Medvedev encouraging himself during the 2019 US Open final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“It has been an amazing final“

He held firm, he fought for every single point as if it were his last and he earned himself a 5-2 lead in that final set. But still Medvedev would not crumble. He came back and back at Nadal until it seemed that he would beat the mighty champion.

And then after nearly five hours of exhausting effort, Nadal crafted the most delicate of drop shots to earn his third match point. This time there was no stopping him. Nadal was the champion of New York.

Now he had 19 titles. Now he was almost the GOAT. But now he knew what the future holds for him and for men’s tennis.

“It has been an amazing final since I had the match more or less under control,” Nadal said. “But honestly, first word that I have to say is to Daniil: his summer is one of the best summers I ever saw in the sport since I was playing. Tonight everybody saw why he is already the No.4 player in the world already with 23 years.

“The way that he was able to fight, to change the rhythm of the match was just incredible. I’m sure he will have many more chances to win here.”

Pumped Rafael Nadal durinh his 2019 US Open final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Still unfinished business

But not yet. Nadal still has unfinished business with history and the record books.

Federer’s record stands ready to be matched and the new US Open champion is feeling fit – tired but fit – and when he is fit, he knows he has a chance on any surface.

For now he has 19 but by the time Roland Garros is done next summer, he could be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Swiss.

The future if coming fast but it has a battle on its hands to shove the present out of the way.