First, congrats to Rafa on winning his fourth U.S. Open, and his second major of the year, giving him, as we all know, 19 majors overall. Some are calling Rafa a 2019 year-end #1, as well. I suppose if Novak is really injured, then that’s a fair assessment, but there is a lot of tennis to play and would you be surprised if Rafa faded some down the stretch? The Spaniard might do the math and see how far he needs to get in particular tournaments, get those needed points, and then withdraw, per Rafa’s typical indoor, end-of-the-year “form,” but we’ll have to wait and see. If Novak is injured, the Spaniard certainly has a good opportunity for another couple of gifts.
But don’t you get the sense that Rafa got exactly what he wanted last night, that this win puts him in a much brighter light, on a higher floor/level of the proverbial tennis greatness skyscraper, that he might be okay with keeping his health as the year winds to a close in the fall and early winter?
Looked like this one meant a lot. He knows what I know. Four U.S. Opens is no bullshit.
Don’t you think he’d almost rather rest until 2020, that he has all the confidence in the world to take to a Melbourne draw, liking his chances against almost anyone (not named Djokovic)?
Then play, of course, a light spring and come swinging ferociously into clay?
We know the numbers, the possibilities, how age does and doesn’t mean much these days, how the field continues to not respond to these mammoth appetites for these giant stages that deliver, upon a little luck and form, giant hardware.
Not even sure the year-end means much to Nadal, though I’m probably mistaken. I would advise him to try and grab one of those ATP Finals crowns while he’s still got his legs.
Yesterday’s result, looking dominant early, then limited and very vulnerable, before finally finding that championship mettle, is epic Nadal, best-of-five, where tennis becomes war and he goes beyond: himself, sometimes the rules, but most importantly his opponent, who in matches like this ends-up looking pretty lost, doomed, holding an empty bag, searching for, perhaps, one more token of energy, or luck.
Nadal, according to my own description, has one ancient coin he carries in an old chácara his uncle Toni gave to him when he was a young boy, early in his charmed tennis career. Of course the coin has two sides. These represent the simple yet powerful duality of Nadal’s flight or fight personality. Anxiety you and I both understand as a potentially devastating condition, but sometimes instead connotes a sense of urgency, or nervousness. This is all very much Rafa Nadal.
One could see Nadal flipping this coin in the fifth set. In the fifth, Nadal and Daniil Medvedev weren’t exactly playing tennis. This became a battle of will, of emotions, of one particular man, 33 years of age, battling his demons, hoping, sweating the coin, fiercely willing the outcome, heads or tails, anxiety or indomitability, distress, I suppose, or eustress.
Nadal won the Open, again. It’s as unbelievable as it is the least surprising thing in tennis these days. First of all, this came shooting across Twitter yesterday. Someone sent it to me thinking I might be interested.
All four draws the years he has triumphed in New York:
The way I will tell the story of Nadal, ultimately (granted, some of my tales might suggest less a tribute and more a rap) will consist of two parts, a bifurcation if you will. Like the coin I tossed around earlier in describing the Spaniard’s genius mental (in)stability.
He’s an absolute warrior, with only Djokovic who can compare when it comes to the deep and the dark heart of a terrifying fighter who will do seemingly anything to cross the finish-line in first.
But I add that Nadal’s often blessed with easier draws (even some of those FO draws) and (ab)uses rules recklessly, often rubs other players and even chair umpires the wrong way.
Although his time violations on Sunday did cost him some (and they should) and he obnoxiously and unethically made Medvedev wait on the Russian’s own serve, much of this gamesmanship and any criticism of it goes right into the waste bin when Rafa is hoisting the trophy. Most people forget about these seemingly peripheral details. Only a few of us remember and recall these familiar textures, feeling like one ought not to ignore these kinds of flaws.
But, again, Nadal won the Open. . . again.
We just talked about the draws and his flaws (I referred to them in an earlier post as his bag of tricks).
But there is more to this outcome than his easy draws and bag of flaws.
Last year, Novak had the gas to dominate and finish the year #1. Nadal dominated 2017 (though Federer did grab #18 and #19, along with the Sunshine Double). 2019 looks a bit up-for-grabs between these two. 2016 was all Novak until his collapse, which gave Murray a little room to wiggle. Before that was Novak (2015), Rafa/Novak (some Stan mixed-in there), etc. You get the picture of who’s doing what on this magical tour, no? (Don’t say “magical mystery tour” since there is absolutely zero mystery about the ATP).
Since the 2019 U.S. Open brings another decade to a close, tennis fans can pause and reflect, especially with some numbers providing a little insight.
Since 2010, the titles have broken-down this way.
In the last ten years:
Djokovic has 15 majors
Nadal has 12 majors
Federer has 5 majors
If you want to include Masters, in order, the take has gone: 28, 20 and 12.
ATP Finals? 4, 0 and 2.
What I’m about to say is tough for some people to understand, despite the numbers above and elsewhere, including age: 32, 33 and 38.
This is the Djokovic and Nadal era.
That’s what those numbers mean. They should echo a clear advantage the younger two have had over the older one; recent matches between these players suggest this advantage, especially between Novak and Roger. There is a natural process that dictates these sorts of things.
Am I suggesting that if Federer were now 32 or 33 that this math would be different, that all matters of match-ups and rivalries and results would be of a different content and character? Maybe, but that’s beside the point.
The point is Federer is six years older than Novak (five years older than Nadal).
By the way, Lleyton Hewitt is 38, the same age as Roger.
Andy Roddick is 37. He’s younger than Roger.
What I mean (by explaining what these numbers mean) is that last night’s U.S. Open was won by one of the Kings, one of the two Kings of this era. Rafa won last night because draws and flaws aside, no one other than Novak can really compete with him at his level and/or on this level.
Nadal is simply that guy, once again, getting every ounce of opportunity out of his tennis at a time when only, really, one other player can compete with him.
Did Federer school Nadal on Centre Court in July? Sure he did. That’s grass. I like Federer on most hard courts, still, as well. But Federer can’t survive these Bo5 hard court draws in order to face Nadal, at least not since 2018 Melbourne. Sure we saw Federer win the 2017 and 2018 Australian Open (beating Nadal in ’17). But we came to call that #2017Fedal, which coincided with #Djokollapse. 2017 was brilliant for Federer, truly, but this was more of an outlier of the Djokodal era when Federer caught a break with his health, a new coach (Ljubičić) and an ailing Novak.
This complicated the crap out of this era of tennis. Look back at those numbers. Since 2010, Federer has 5 majors.
Sure we wanted to see Djokovic play Nadal in this year’s U.S. Open final. We suspect most likely a different outcome than the one we had on Sunday. Then again, Novak had a very very difficult draw with which to negotiate.
In the end, we can complain if we’re not thrilled with certain outcomes, but we have to concede since the numbers rarely lie. Having said that, go to Twitter and you’ll catch all sorts of flawed and misleading statistical arguments presented by the various fanclubs of these great athletes.
But to conclude this post, this Part I of post-U.S. Open thoughts, Nadal won because he and Djokovic are at this point trading runs of dominance. Their age and style of play dictate this dominance. Almost end of discussion.
Federer is an iconic distraction from, really, a slightly earlier era.
He did what Borg refused to do (I read an interesting article about this historical observation): instead of retiring when his winning dominance started to end, Federer continued, for the love of the sport, for those moments of genius. He’s had to endure a lot of losing, sometimes tragically.
And though I argue that he created this mess, here he is, along with the rest of us, sitting in practically front row seats, watching Nadal and Djokovic wage war against each other, the record books, and, in case we forget, a nearly helpless field of challengers.
That’s where we’ll pick-up tomorrow.