NEW YORK (AFP) — Unlike at his beloved Roland Garros, success did not arrive overnight for Rafael Nadal on the unforgiving hard courts of the US Open, where he surged to within a title of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s Grand Slam singles record Sunday.
Nadal’s epic victory over Daniil Medvedev secured the Spaniard his fourth US Open crown, leaving him one shy of the Open era record of five titles belonging to long-time rival Federer, Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors.
But it was not an instant connection between Nadal, his notoriously suspect knees, and the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.
“I think at the beginning of my career have been some tough moments here, losing matches,” said Nadal, who failed to reach a single semifinal in his first five trips to the US Open.
During that span, Nadal would claim at least one singles title at the other three majors, but it was not until his eighth visit to Flushing Meadows that he would get his hands on an elusive US Open trophy.
“Since a long time ago, every time that I came here I felt comfortable. I felt very competitive and fighting for the big things,” Nadal said during his run to a second US Open title in three years.
“I feel comfortable here, I like the atmosphere, I like the crowd. I feel a big energy when I am playing in this Arthur Ashe Stadium.”
Nadal’s latest coronation, his 19th Grand Slam title, reinforced the fact the slower hard courts of the US Open and his obliging knees have turned New York into a land of opportunity.
Vanquished opponents this past fortnight struggled to find superlatives befitting the 33-year-old as he capped one of his greatest Grand Slam years in thrilling style.
Diego Schwartzman suggested Nadal was “like a lion in the middle of the jungle” while Matteo Berrettini called him “the greatest fighter ever in this sport.”
“It’s tough to find words. He’s one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport. He’s just a machine, a beast on the court,” Medvedev said.
The victory moved Nadal, dubbed as “Claydal” for his expertise on clay courts, to within one Grand Slam title of Federer, who, at 38 years old, is more than four years older, but the Spaniard downplayed the importance of catching the Swiss legend.