(King of the Hard Courts!!)
Guys. It really happened. Rafa ripped open the entire field of competitors in his path and now he is the 2013 US Open Champion!!
This championship match was so insane, with both players being stretched to their limits over the three hour plus match time. Ultimately, Rafa won the night over World No. 1 and current-biggest-rival Novak Djokovic with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory. Rafa maintains a perfect 22-0 record on hard courts this season. This also marks his 13th major title (out of 18 finals played). He is now only one major title behind Sampras on the all-time list. It seems clear if he stays healthy he'll pass that number. He's currently four back of Federer.I think that 5 more major titles seems like an awful lot. But Rafa's still only 27 and shows no signs of losing dominance at the French, so it's not impossible. It's Rafa. So you gotta give him a fighting chance. :)
(My little guy, Nafa Radal, got a new blue tattoo Monday night.
#13 looks good on him!)
This is Rafa's 10th title for the year and brings his record to an amazing 60-3. He currently has 11,010 points to Novak's 7,970 in the Emirates ATP Race To London. He joins Andy Roddick and Pat Rafter as the only other men to pull off the North American Hat-Trick of winning the Montreal Masters, the Cincinnati Masters and US Open all in the same season. Remember when Rafa was weakest on hard courts? Me neither.
(Tuesday in the Park with Rafa. I'd write a musical about it.)
There were several truly astonishing moments in this match, including the stunning 54 stroke rally that led to Novak breaking Rafa's serve in the second set. There were so many shots that just seemed to defy the laws of physics and gravity and physical limitation. But the moment that made the whole evening for me was Rafa holding serve for 5-4 in the third. I simply couldn't believe it was happening as I saw it. First he got down an early break in the third but fought back to get level. Then at 4-4 he gets behind 0-40 including a 0-30 point where he trips and literally falls back on his ass to the ground as he's backing up to hit the ball. The slow-mo replay of it is amazing because even as he's falling Rafa is so focused, he refuses to take his eye off the ball, as if just knows where the ball is, his body will course correct and he'll eventually be able to hit it. But then Rafa digs and digs and digs and gets back to deuce, by hitting his only ace of the entire match at the fastest speed he served all night. Two points later, he holds for 5-4.
(Novak shows his love for So You Think You Can Dance
as he battles against Rafa.)
Guys, by any normal reasoning Rafa should've lost the 3rd set. For the vast majority of that set, Novak was playing at an unbelievable level and Rafa was struggling to find the answers. But when it mattered most, when there was nowhere else to go but out or up, Rafa found it within himself to win. He won every point that really mattered, even if he lost a few astonishing winners by Novak. He broke Novak at 5-4, and after all that struggling from behind, he had a 2 sets to 1 lead. It was stunning. I actually cried a little and clapped when he held serve at 5-4, because his will to persevere is so strong and so inspiring to me. All I can do is marvel. After that third set, Rafa was soaring. I thought Novak would mount another attack in the fourth, but it turned out that Nadal was unreachable, losing just one more game on his way to a 6-1 final set triumph. He's now 3-3 all time with Novak in major finals and 22-15 in their professional head to head match up. Novak has made the US Open Final 5 times, but only managed one win so far. I'm not sure why he hasn't been more successful percentage-wise, given his amazing hard-court ability, but I definitely feel he'll win a few more throughout his career.
So where do we go from here? With no points to defend for the rest of the year, and only a 120 point deficit between Rafa and Novak, it seems inevitable that Rafa will overtake Novak for No. 1 this year. Can he win the Shanghai Masters? The World Tour Finals, which he's never won? I'm excited to see where he can go from here. All I can say is: VAMOS!!!