Lets see what transpires over the next three seasons. The feeling grows that Nadal just might earn eventual recognition in many quarters as the best ever. Meanwhile, I ran into Pancho Segura right after the final, and he told me, Nadal is the best left-hander ever. Who could beat him?
<WILLIAMS CLIMBS HISTORICAL WITH HER FIFTH US. OPEN WIN
In just a couple of weeks, Serena Williams will turn 32. She fully comprehends the limitations of time, realizes that she cant count on performing at the peak of her powers for more than a few more years, and is more single-minded about her tennis than ever before. Serena, like Nadal, had tasted more than her share of important victories in 2013 before coming to the Open. She had won eight tournaments and 60 of 64 matches. But, curiously, Serena had won only one of the three Grand Slam championships this season, securing a second crown at Roland Garros. She had fallen in the quarters at the Australian Open against Sloane Stephens, playing hurt during that contest. At Wimbledon in the round of 16, she could not close out Sabine Lisicki despite leading 3-0 and 4-1 in the final set, collapsing with nerves down the stretch as the German raised her game decidedly.
Nadal versus Djokovic has become the second most celebrated rivalry in this generation, right behind Nadal-Federer. Their Open skirmish was the 37th time they have played against each other, a record among the men in the Open Era which commenced in 1968. They first clashed seven years ago at Roland Garros in the quarters. Until 2010, most of their duels at the Grand Slam championships were semifinals, but then they clashed in their first major final at Flushing Meadows three years ago, with Nadal the victor. A year later, Djokovic turned the tables on the Spaniard in New York. In fact, from Wimbledon in 2011 through the French Open of 2012, they met in four straight major finals, an unprecedented development in the mens game. Djokovic won the first three of those battlesincluding their epic five hour, 53 minute struggle at the 2012 Australian Openbefore Nadal upended the Serbian in 2012 at the French Open.
The match changed course in the sixth game of that second set. Nadal was serving at 2-3, 30-40 when the two incomparable ground-stroking stalwarts became embroiled in a stirring 54 stroke exchange. At the end of that rally, Nadal thundered a couple of shots that only Djokovic could have answered. First, the Spaniard laced a backhand crosscourt, and that opened up the court for his deadly forehand crosscourt. But Djokovic got that one back deep off his remarkable two-handed backhand, catching Nadal off guard. Nadal netted a backhand. Djokovic raised his arms joyously, the crowd rose and applauded the players unabashedly, and Djokovic had a strong foothold in the match, having built a 4-2 lead. He was serving into the wind, however, and Nadal broke back in the following game. But Nadal had to serve the eighth game from the same side, and could not exploit a 40-15 lead and six game points in all. Djokovic had found his rhythm and feel on the return of serve, and no matter where Nadal served or what the spin or velocity, Djokovic had an answer.
Once more, Nadal was in a terrible bind, triple break point down, with Djokovic poised to break and possibly serve out the set. But the Spaniard played his finest clutch tennis of the match right then and there. He served to the Djokovic backhand, and the return came back with reasonable depth. With his weight falling backwards, Nadal still managed to make a clean winner, down the line off the forehand. The next rally lasted 21 strokes, but Djokovic blinked, netting a forehand down the line. And then Nadal cracked a 125 MPH flat serve down the T for an ace. It was deuce.
Nadal had survived a crisis, and with very little help from Djokovic. The Spaniard let two sets to one, and Djokovic was clearly confounded that he was not in the lead. At 30-30 in the first game of the fourth, Nadal sliced an immaculate backhand drop shot low down the line, but somehow Djokovic got there and angled a backhand crosscourt at an acute angle for a dazzling winner, as the crowd cheered him on effusively. But Djokovic missed an inside-in forehand to make it deuce. The Serbian earned a second break point, but Nadal erased it swiftly with a wide slice serve provoking an errant backhand crosscourt return.
Williams and Azarenka has become the premier rivalry in the womens game. Coming into 2013, Williams owned an 11-1 record against the world No. 2, but clearly Azarenka had been bolstered a year ago by nearly toppling Williams in the 2012 U.S. Open final. Azarenka came within two points of victory after establishing a 5-3 final set lead, but Serena rescued herself dynamically and captured four games in a row to get the victory. This year, however, Azarenka had taken two of three meetings with Williams, overcoming the American at Doha in the final and again in the championship match at Cincinnati, prevailing both times in exhilarating three set encounters.
GASQUET AND WAWRINKA REACH SEMIS AT A MAJOR FOR FIRST TIME
One of the fascinating features of this U.S. Open in the mens draw was the high profile of the one-handed backhand. In the quarterfinals, four of the eight men displayed one-handed backhands. That was awfully refreshing, even if the final pitted two players with two-handers against each other.
PENNETTA REACHES SEMIFINALS
The womens semifinal lineup included three 31-year-old players: Williams, Na Li and Flavia Pennetta. Pennetta had a career best major, ousting four seeded players, enjoying herself immensely, producing top of the line tennis. She lost in a straight set semifinal to Azarenka, but her presence on the big stage was a boost for the tournament. Pennetta hits the ball cleanly off both sides, shapes her strategy clearly and effectively, defends skillfully but takes control of points frequently, and is a delight to watch. Her serve could be decidedly better; Azarenka broke her eight out of nine times in the semifinals. But she is a first rate tennis player who deserved the honor of being around for the latter stages of a major tournament. The Italian was revitalized after having wrist surgery in 2012. A graceful and stylish competitor, she played some of the finest tennis of her career.
<JAMES BLAKE RETIRES
A year ago, Andy Roddick announced his retirement from tennis during the U.S. Open. This year, Roddicks old friend and former Davis Cup teammate decided it was time for him to say goodbye. Blake, of course, was a player who built an enormous fan base. He always carried himself with dignity, competing with honor, performing with verve. His flat forehand was one of the games best during his era.
<Steve Flink has been reporting on tennis since 1974. He has been a columnist for tennischannel.com since 2007. You can purchase Steve’s latest book “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” here.
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