At first, it looked like one of his more convincing victories. And then, it looked like it may be one of his toughest defeats.
But in the end, it was, as Rafael Nadal described, one of the most emotional nights of his tennis career as the Spaniard hung on to defeat fifth-seeded Russian Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 and capture the 2019 US Open trophy.
“This victory is so important for me. Especially as the match became more and more difficult,” said Nadal. “I was able to hold the nerves. They were so high. It was a crazy match and I’m just very emotional. It was an amazing final. Daniil is only 23-years-old and the way he was able to fight and change the rhythm of the match was amazing. He will have many more opportunities like this.”
The two entered Sunday’s final with the same goal in mind, yet with different implications: Nadal was seeking his 19th career major title, moving him within one of record-holder Roger Federer, while Medvedev was seeking his first Grand Slam crown to cap off his breakthrough summer.
As one would expect in a final, the match was at a high-level from the start. Both players saved break points and secured breaks in the opening set, but Nadal got the important one at 6-5 to take the first.
In the second, Nadal grabbed the only break and converted on 79 percent of his first serves to build a commanding two-sets-to-love lead, an advantage he has only squandered one time in his decorated career.
But Medvedev would put that to the test. He dug in and made sure the Arthur Ashe crowd would be allowed to stick around for a while. He saved break points at 4-4 in the third set, and then broke Nadal at 6-5 to force a fourth set.
“Because of the crowd, I was fighting like hell,” said Medvedev, whose rollercoaster ride with the US Open crowd throughout his two weeks in New York was one of the more entertaining storylines of the tournament. “In the third set, in my mind, I was already thinking what to say in the speech. [But] I was fighting and I didn’t give up.”
The fourth set would remain on serve until 5-4, when Medvedev dug in on Nadal’s service game and broke the Spaniard with a backhand winner to send the US Open final to a deciding fifth set.
While Medvedev had snatched the momentum of the match, Nadal would demonstrate why he is one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen. He became relentless on Medvedev’s serve early in the fifth set, and at 2-2, despite falling behind 0-40 in the Russian’s service game, Nadal fought back to secure the break and take a 3-2 lead.
After holding, Nadal would break him one more time to build a 5-2 lead and attempted to serve for the championship. Medvedev had one more comeback try in him, breaking Nadal and consolidating with a hold to force Nadal to serve for the trophy once again.
This time, however, Nadal would not be denied, and he served out the match to win the four hour and 49 minute long match and earn his fourth US Open trophy.
“The way that the match became very dramatic at the end, that makes this day unforgettable, part of my history of this sport. I’m just very happy,” said Nadal. “This trophy means everything to me today.”