First-time U.S. Open finalist Rafael Nadal (above) was broken for just the second time at this year's tourney in Saturday's win over Mikhail Youzhny. (AP)
Rafael Nadal is just three sets from history.
After Saturday’s clinical 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Mikhail Youzhny, the 24-year-old Majorcan is one victory away from becoming the seventh man in history to achieve the career Grand Slam -- and just the third (after Andre Agassi and Roger Federer) to complete the set on three different surfaces.
Nadal, who also became the sixth man in the Open Era to reach the final of all four major tournaments, spent much of Saturday’s post-match press conference discussing matters of legacy.
As early as Tuesday, ESPN’s Brad Gilbert declared a Nadal-Federer final would be the most important match in the history of tennis. Speaking to the media Saturday nearly 90 minutes after match point, Nadal attempted to dial down the hype of the potential matchup as a plasma screen on the wall of the interview room showed the second set of the ongoing Federer-Djokovic semifinal.
“I don't think is that important,” Nadal said. “That is for sure very important match, but is only one more match. So I think we played during both of our careers very important matches against each other. This one gonna be something new, because it's a different tournament, but for me it's not [more] important than the final of Wimbledon 2008 or the final of Wimbledon 2007.”
When asked whether Grand Slams should be the ultimate metric for greatness -- or if things like head-to-head record should be taken into consideration -- Nadal's response was illuminating.
“Head-to-head is not an element for me. Is a part of the statistics, but is not the decisive element,” Nadal said. “[There are] more important things and more difficult things to do than win a Grand Slam. In my opinion, Roger won 16 Grand Slams already. But what he did, 23 [Grand Slam] semifinals in a row, that's something amazing. Is impossible to repeat, in my opinion.”
It will be difficult to pick against Nadal on form, regardless of Sunday’s opponent. He’s on a 20-match winning streak in majors, he’s dropped serve just twice in 90 service games and he’s yet to lose a set over the past fortnight. He's also serving better than ever: Nadal’s fastest offering of the day was a blistering 132 m.p.h. “I know I have to serve well if I really want to have any day the chance to win here,” Nadal said. “So I always repeat this to myself. I worked a lot to serve well during all my career and I have to keep working that hard.”
If that’s not enough, Nadal needed just two hours and 13 minutes -- less than the runtime of Eat Pray Love -- to finish off Youhzny on a pristine Saturday afternoon. "Three sets match and two hours," Nadal said. "Always is great, no? I'm going to be in perfect condition tomorrow."