When you think back to all the doubt surrounding Rafael Nadal back in the spring, doubts he would be able to defend the French Open title he has made his personal property for more than a decade, his triumph at the final major of the tennis season is all that more remarkable.
As is the fact that the player once considered a clay court specialist now has four U.S. Open championships to his credit. It would be as great a feat, we can imagine, as if Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest grass court player ever, had five French Opens to his credit.
But he doesn’t. He has one.
That’s one of the elements that going to frame the conversation in future months as the debate over whether Federer or Nadal is the greatest player of all time heats up. For 16 years these two have dominated the sport, at times assisted by Novak Djokovic, and at other times by Andy Murray.
The Big Three – Fed, Rafa and Djokovic – have won the last 12 Grand Slam titles, and 51 of the last 59 majors played. Since Federer won his first Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, only five men’s major finals have been played without one of the three involved.
That first Wimbledon title made it 1-0 for Federer over Nadal. After winning the 2019 U.S. Open, Nadal is now back to within one Grand Slam title of Federer for the first time since then. The amazing part about Nadal is how many times he’s been counted out because of his array of physical problems, and how many times he’s bounced back to be even more dominant.
Remember, back in the spring? Fabio Fognini won Monte Carlo, Dominic Thiem won Barcelona and then Djokovic captured Madrid. Along the way, Nadal lost in those tournaments to Fognini, Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas. His dominance on red dirt seemed to be over. . .until he won Rome and Roland Garros in rapid succession.
In the hard court season, he played the Rogers Cup, beating Daniil Medvedev in the Montreal final, then won the U.S. Open. It’s as though he doesn’t need the preparation others need, and doesn’t need to be on a hot streak to win the big tournaments. Others play more, but Nadal’s ability to manage his injuries and peak for the big events, regardless of the surface, sets him apart.
It’s unclear how much longer Federer will continue. Djokovic retired with shoulder problems at the U.S. Open, and we’ll learn in the coming weeks how badly injured he is.
Nobody believed Nadal would last long enough to win 19 majors. But here he is, and in outlasting Medvedev in that marathon U.S. Open final, he demonstrated he’s nowhere near done.
The great Jimmy Connors put it best: “Even at this stage, Nadal plays like he’s broke.”
Tight ATP Race
It’s going to be tight.
There are six players battling for final two spots in the ATP Race to London, a group that includes Roberto Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori, Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev, David Goffin, Gael Monfils. Six players already have spots sewn up.
The doubles race, meanwhile, is completely wide-open. Only Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, winners of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, are guaranteed a spot. The other seven postions in the season-ending competition are still very much up for grabs.
Anderson out indefinitely
Kevin Anderson’s season is done.
The veteran South African, a Wimbledon finalist in 2018, has decided to take the rest of the season off and prepare for 2020 as he recovers from knee problems.
“This will give me enough time to undergo more rehab processes and get healthy,” said the 33-year-old Anderson in a statement.
He hasn’t played since Wimbledon this season. He missed the Rogers Cup in Montreal, ending a streak of nine consecutive appearances at the event.