No. 2 Rafael Nadal beat No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday to win his second U.S. Open title, 13th major overall and 10th title of the year. The Spaniard's win, his 22nd straight on hard courts in 2013, moves him into sole possession of third place for Grand Slam titles, behind Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14).
Nadal, 27, skipped the tournament a year ago because of a knee injury. He took seven months off to rest and rehabilitate before returning to the tour in February. Since then, he's gone 60-3.
“Probably only my team knows how much [the win] means for me,” Nadal said during the trophy presentation.
The final, which was highlighted by some incredible shot-making given the windy conditions, turned in the crucial third set. Djokovic looked firmly in control after securing an early break, but played a loose game at 3-2 to let Nadal back into the set. Despite being outplayed for most of the set, Nadal converted on his only two break chances to steal the set, and the 26-year-old Serb couldn't recover.
“Playing against Novak always is a very special feeling," Nadal said. "Probably nobody brings my game to the limit like Novak.”
Nadal hit 27 winners to 20 unforced errors, while Djokovic, who played the aggressor through much of the last three sets, pounded 46 winners to 53 unforced errors.
Djokovic has now lost in four of his last five Grand Slam finals, and fell to 1-3 against No. 2 Nadal this season. His No. 1 ranking, which he has held for the better part of the last two years, is now under immediate threat. Nadal has closed the point gap considerably on Djokovic during his incredible hard-court summer run, in which he won two ATP Masters 1000s and now the U.S. Open. With no points to defend through the remainder of the season, it's only a matter of time before Nadal returns to the top spot.
Game-by-game analysis of Nadal's win after the jump.
8:39 p.m. ET | Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to win the 2013 U.S. Open.
Nadal closes it out when Djokovic hits his 53rd unforced error of the match. After shaking hands with Djokovic, the Spaniard falls to the ground and cries tears of relief, exultation and disbelief into the court before heading to his box to celebrate with his family.
Djokovic is left staring off into the distance, trying to figure out how in the world he let that third set slip away. He was in the driver's seat that whole set, but couldn't put Rafa away. To be fair, a lot of that has to do with Nadal's resilience. But more of it has to do with a lack of killer instinct or intensity from Djokovic when he's in a tense, but winning position. It's happened multiple times this year.
8:28 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks again, leads *5-1.
Djokovic has tapped out. He leads 30-0 on his serve, and then loses four straight points to give up another break.
Nadal will serve for his 13th Slam title.
8:21 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 4-1*.
Djokovic holds to get on the board. He wins the first point on Nadal's serve then the two play a ridiculous XBOX-style 25-shot rally that Nadal wins on a backhand passing shot. The level of tennis continues to be very high from both these two, but Rafa's just sharper right now.
Another hold from Nadal and he's two games from the title.
8:14 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads 3-0*.
How quickly does Djokovic put that third set behind him? He was a point away from a two-break lead and held a 30-love lead in that final game before getting broken. This has been my question about Djokovic as the 2013 season has unfolded. He's shown a discomforting trend of letting leads go for reason. The killer instinct hasn't been there for much of the season. That's the primary reason I gave Nadal the edge in this match. When things get tight, Novak hasn't been delivering.
As I type that, Djokovic earns a break point in Nadal's first service game, and tries to go big on a looping forehand but pulls it well wide. He earns a second break point but sends the lunging backhand return wide. Once again, Djokovic should have done better to win that game, but Nadal wins it.
An opportunity lost, Djokovic falls immediately into a 0-40 hole on his serve. A lucky netcord that just trickles over to Nadal's side helps get to 30-40, but Nadal converts with a scorching forehand down the line winner. He consolidates the break and he's got the lead.
Carillo is referring to the 2008 Wimbledon final, the 2012 Australian Open final and this year's French Open semifinal. Two of those have been against Djokovic.
7:54 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks and wins the third set, leads 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
The 54-shot rally will likely go down as the point of the tournament, but the two play a highly entertaining game of cat and mouse which sees Nadal win the point at the net.
Serving at 30-all, Djokovic crushes a mid-court forehand into the middle of the net to give Nadal set point. What a horrible, horrible miss.
Nadal converts set point and he's got a 2-1 lead. He drops to his knees and does an awkward lawnmower celebration. What a houdini act.
The key to that second set was break point conversions. Djokovic dominated off the ground but Nadal got a look at two break points and he converted both. Djokovic saw five break points and only got one. Otherwise, the remaining numbers show Djokovic had the better set.
Djokovic: 3 aces, 0 double-faults, served at 72 percent, hit 17 winners, 17 unforced.
Nadal: 1 ace, 1 double-fault, served at 53 percent, hit 6 winners and 6 unforced.
7:47 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 5-4*.
No drama hold for Djokovic, but Nadal falls to 0-40 on his serve. Djokovic wins the first point with a backhand winner, Nadal tumbles to the ground on the second point while trying to scramble for a Djokovic forehand, and the Djokovic gets triple break point on a perfect return that skids off the line to earn the shank from Rafa.
But Nadal saves all three break points to get to deuce, the third with a 125 mph ace down the tee. What a time for his first ace of the match. He holds after a nine and a half minute game and Djokovic is, surprisingly, serving to stay in the set.
Nadal is Djokovic-ing Djokovic. He's getting outplayed but grinding his way through this set.
7:33 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads 4-3*.
Djokovic plays a loose service game, hitting four unforced errors in that game to give Nadal a chance to break back and even it up. Sure enough, Nadal only needs one break point. He converts and we're back on serve. Better intensity from Nadal now, who looked to be reeling after that 30 minute surge from Djokovic.
Not that this hasn't been good already, but I think this match is about to get very good.
Nadal consolidates the break at 15 and he leads 4-3.
7:21 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, trails *3-2.
The two trade holds, and the news of the moment is that Nadal held rather easily -- threw in three unreturned serves in that service game. Still trails by a break, but this match seems to be settling down with both men evening out their levels.
7:12 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.
Djokovic keeps his momentum going with a break at love. In fact, he wins the first six points of the set before a forehand error gets Nadal on the board.
Nadal battles his way to deuce on Djokovic's serve, but the Serb responds by winning 29 -shot rally and clinching the game with an ace. Djokovic is on his A-game now. It's up to Nadal to problem-solve and respond.
Djokovic is getting looks in every Nadal service game now but Rafa fights him off for a crucial hold to 1-2 with a little help from this sick drop shot.
6:53 p.m. ET | Djokovic wins the second set, 6-3 to level the match at one-set all.
Despite that bad service game, Djokovic has definitely lifted his game. He's found his range on his groundstrokes, particularly on his forehand, which he's whipping through. He's working so hard and he's rewarded with another break point, which he converts when Nadal pulls the cord on a drop shot and he gets there easily.
He'll serve for the set.
Absolutely. Djokovic is winning the court positioning war in this set. Nadal is falling too far behind the baseline, while Djokovic is walking it like a tightrope -- now he's the aggressor in the rallies. That wasn't the case in the first set.
With a backhand winner down the line, Djokovic evens it up. Settle in, everyone. This one's going to be another long drawn out duel.
Impressive how Djokovic was able to turn that around. He served at 70 percent, was 9 for 10 at the net and hit 15 winners to 13 unforced errors. For Nadal it wasn't a bad set, but he was simply outplayed in the late stages. He's getting pushed back, and his ball is falling shorter. He served at 72 percent in that set, but only won 46 percent of his first serve points. He also evened out on winners, hitting seven to seven unforced errors.
6:36 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, Nadal breaks back, trails 4-3*.
Tremendous point from Djokovic to earn his third break point of the set. While Nadal dictated the point standing on the baseline, Djokovic looked like he was directing air traffic from La Guardia, standing at least two yards beyond the baseline, but he suddenly sneaks into the net and surprises Nadal, putting away a perfect volley.
But the point of the match so far: Djokovic wins a 54-shot rally with some relentless defense on his forehand side. Nadal pummels his forehand flat into that corner, and Djokovic's speed and precision has him lunging to defend and stay in the rally. Nadal finally sends a tired forehand into the net and the crowd goes nuts. Djokovic breaks to a 4-2 lead.
Djokovic doesn't have any time to savor that break. He falls to 0-40 immediately on his serve and Nadal breaks back immediately. That's gotta be deflating.
6:25 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Nadal responds to Djokovic's best service game with a love hold. He's outrallying Djokovic in the longer rallies and hitting some shots I couldn't describe if I wanted to. Perhaps Mary Carillo put it best: "That's a shot that didn't exist 20 years ago." He's finding some angles and pace out of nothing.
Djokovic holds at 15. Needless to say this is a much cleaner set of tennis from the Serb. He finished the first set with twice as many errors as winners. Right now he's at 5 winners to 4 unforced errors.
As for Nadal, his first serve percentage is dropping. He's below 45 percent for the set so far.
6:14 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
"The fact that Nadal hasn't been down break point yet surprises me," says McEnroe. It's the commentator's jinx in effect, as Djokovic gets double break point at 15-40. Someone in the crowd keeps yelling out when Nadal is on the run for a forehand and the Spaniard shoots the umpire a look and he obliges with an announcement. The upper deck is getting a bit noisy at the moment.
Nadal saves both break points, one with a Djokovic error and another with a backhand pass. Nadal holds after a 10 minute game.
Djokovic backhand winners: 1. Djokovic backhand errors: 8.
Much better service game from Djokovic to hold to 2-1. He plays his best point of the match, yanking Nadal all over the court with some heavy hitting and finishing a tricky sliced backhand with a sliding volley for the winner. Big fist pump to his box. That could be the game to turn things around for him.
5:56 p.m. ET | Nadal wins the first set 6-2.
That was an uneventful first set. It took just 42 minutes, and Djokovic was far from his best. He hit 6 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Nadal hit 7 winners to 4 unforced errors. Clean, aggressive stuff from Nadal and Djokovic didn't see a single break point in that set. The only way is up for Djokovic.
CBS stat: The loser of the first set has won the U.S. Open just once in the last 20 years. The one anomaly was Juan Martin del Potro in 2009 against Roger Federer. And what a gentle yet giant anomaly he is.
5:49 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads *5-2.
Love hold for Nadal. Djokovic hits a near-perfect drop shot on game point, but Nadal still gets to it and slides it cross court for a winner. Rafa is fast, Novak. Rafa is very fast. Might want to keep that dropper in your pocket today.
Triple break point for Nadal. McEnroe is harping on Djokovic's focus in this set. He doesn't think Novak is all there. To me, it just doesn't look like Djokovic has a clear idea of what he wants to do against this hyper-aggressive, A-level Rafa.
Djokovic loses his eighth-straight point when he sends a forehand long, and he's down a double-break at 5-2. He's being beaten. Badly.
Nadal will serve for the first set, which by their standards has been remarkably quick.
5:43 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, trails *3-2.
John McEnroe on CBS says he'd be shocked if there aren't at least 10 breaks of serve today. I'll take the under on that.
Djokovic isn't dealing with the wind as well as Nadal right now. He's planting far too early (possibly because he wants to take some cuts at the ball), and he's been caught off balance snatching at the ball quite a few times already.
Still, Djokovic is doing what he's always been able to do against Nadal: Stay in the match even though it looks like he's being outplayed. He gets to deuce again on Nadal's serve.
Longest rally of the match: 27 shots. Djokovic seems to be hanging with Nadal and even have an edge in the rally, until Nadal breaks it open with two forehands. Djokovic is screaming and gesturing at his box in frustration. Nadal wins the next point and holds.
5:29 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks, *2-1.
Djokovic opens things up with a hold at 30. A little bit of everything from him there -- He served and volleyed on the second point and finished things off with an ace.
Two big stats for Nadal coming into this match: He's hit 113 forehand winners in 18 sets. By comparison, Djokovic has hit 73 forehand winners in 21 sets.
Looking at Djokovic's backhand, the number of times he's missing off that wing is surprising given how easily he coasted through the first four rounds. Djokovic has hit just 32 backhand winners to a whopping 70 unforced errors. Nadal has been much cleaner, hitting 28 backhand winners to 38 unforced.
Djokovic gets to deuce on Nadal's opening service game but no further. Just as a reminder, Nadal has been broken just once in the tournament.
So far Djokovic is taking some awfully big cuts on the ball. And already I'm wondering how much longer this goes until Umpire Garner gives someone a time warning.
Nadal earns a break point on Djokovic's next service game thanks to a rather lazy backhand error from Novak, who doesn't move his feet. The wind is swirling on the court, though not as badly as it was during the women's final yesterday. Djokovic saves break point by daring Nadal to hit through him, and the Spaniard nets a regulation backhand into the net. A successful serve and volley move gets him to game point but Nadal pulls it back to deuce with an out-of-nowhere forehand winner, which he hooks and loops cross-court. It took Djokovic by such surprise he didn't even move for it.
Nadal earns his second break point of the game when Djokovic sends a forehand into the net and then converts with a big forehand winner.
Rafa with first blood, 3-1.
5:11 p.m. ET | Warm up
For the first time at the U.S. Open we actually have a Monday final that was meant to be on a Monday. It also happens to fall on a year when, really, the weather wouldn't have precluded a Sunday finish. Murphy's Law and all that.
As Chris Chase points out, the 5 p.m. Monday start for the last Slam final of the year is frustrating. Europe is about to go to bed, people are just getting off work on the East Coast and people are still toiling away on the West Coast. That's not even mentioning the fact that it's a losing effort to schedule the final against the first Monday Night Football game of the NFL season.
To that end, this is a great stat: Per @Juanjo_Sports from The Changeover, the average length of the last seven Grand Slam matches contested between Djokovic and Nadal is four hours and four minutes. Hope you're not planning to air your primetime schedule today, CBS.
Rod Laver was on court for the coin toss. Djokovic won the toss and has elected to serve. Jake Garner, everyone's favorite umpire (not really) is in the chair for the final.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal will meet in the final of the U.S. Open on Monday. CBS will televise the match, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Arthur Ashe Stadium. You can read my full match preview and predictions here.
Djokovic, the 2011 U.S. Open champion and seven-time major winner, advanced to his seventh consecutive hard-court Grand Slam final with a five-set victory against Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals. The 26-year-old Serb trailed two sets to one before rallying in his first real test of the tournament, which included a four-set win over No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny in the quarterfinals and four routine wins against unseeded opponents.
Nadal, the 2010 U.S. Open champion and 12-time major winner, has been dominant in running his hard-court record to 21-0 this year. The 27-year-old Spaniard has dropped one set at the U.S. Open, against No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round, and one service game, against No. 8 Richard Gasquet in the semifinals.
"It's always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now," Djokovic said of beating Nadal, who is 59-3 this year. "He's the ultimate competitor. He's fighting for every ball and he's playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts. ... With no doubt he's the best player in the moment this year."
This will be the 37th match between the ATP's two top-ranked players. Nadal leads 21-15 and has won their last two matches, both incredibly tight: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) on a hard court at the Rogers Cup in August and 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 at the French Open in June. Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2010 U.S. Open final, and Djokovic returned the favor in the 2011 U.S. Open final.