Nadal Completes Career Grand Slam With Win Over Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Hurling himself into the final ferocious forehands of the night like a fighter unleashing uppercuts with incisive intentions, Rafael Nadal took his shot at tennis history on the rise and completed his Grand Slam coronation in stirring style tonight.

Nadal captured his first career US Open championship to complete the career Grand Slam with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Novak Djokovic in the Flushing Meadows final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s more than I dreamt,” said Nadal, whose fingertips, still tinged with adhesive tape, tickled the shiny silver title trophy that eluded him for so long. “I know, for me, it’s a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more (of a) dream (to) have the US Open.  Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”

On championship point, Nadal coaxed a final forehand error from Djokovic, watched Djokovic’s shot sail wide, dropped his Babolat racquet and fell flat on his back behind the baseline while camera flashes flickered continiously like a force of fireflies descending on Flushing Meadows to light up the night. Then he rolled over on his stomach, his palms pressing down on the court as if embracing the largest Grand Slam stage in the world in a heart-felt hug.

Throughout his career, the US Open was the one major title eluding him, but on this night, in this event, Nadal conquered the hard court once deemed to fast for game and brought more than 22,000 adoring fans along for the ride.

When it was over the appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd stood and gave both men a rousing ovation.

At the age of 24 years, 101 days, Nadal took another giant stride toward tennis immortality in becoming just the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam. Nadal is the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession. He is the third youngest man to complete the career Grand Slam after Don Budge (22 years, 357 days) and Laver (24 years, 32 days).

It is the ninth career major championship for Nadal, who is the first Spanish man since Manuel Orantes in 1975 to win the US Open. He spent some of the early years of his career as the second-seeded shadow to 16-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer. But now Nadal, five years Federer’s junior and owning a 14-7 career edge over the Swiss stylist in their head-to-head series, can stake a claim as one of the greatest players of all time. Should he he continue his winning pace, and there’s no one on the horizon who appears capable of slowing Nadal’s Roland Garros reign, can the muscular Mallorcan surpass Federer as the mythical Greatest Of All Time?

“Definitely,” Djokovic said without hesitation tonight. “He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever.  I think he’s playing the best tennis that I ever seen him play on hardcourts.  He has improved his serve drastically.  The speed, the accuracy, and of course his baseline is as good as ever. So he’s a very complete player.”

Solidifying his status as the best big-match player in the sport, Nadal is 6-0 in his last six Grand Slam finals.

Racing so far behind the baseline he could have almost tapped the blue back wall with his racquet, Nadal ripped running backhand passes that left Djokovic shaking his head in disbelief at times.

The match featured six rallies of 20 more strokes and those punishing exchanges took a toll on Djokovic, whose depleted legs, drained from the five-set fight with five-time champion Roger Federer in the semifinals, looked like licorice by the early stages of the fourth set.

A rhythm player who actually seems to grow stronger as the match goes longer, Nadal was seemingly swinging with even more force as he saw the finish line in the fourth set.

A titanic topspin forehand down the line gave Nadal a double break point in the third game of the fourth set. Djokovic retaliated with his own ripping forehand down the line to save the first break point, but that shot was effectively the Belgrade baseliner’s last stand. A Djokovic forehand tripped on the tope of the tape and landed long as Nadal broke for 2-1.

Two games later, Nadal was at it again, pummeling punishing shots that hounded Djokovic like a pack of pit bulls unleashed on a trespasser. When Djokovic, who fought so hard for so long, flattened a forehand into the net, he hung his head falling into a 1-4 hole, wearing the weary resignation of a man well aware the dream was evaporating in the night air.

Djokovic was serving at 4-all, 30-all in the second set when the skies opened up and rain began pouring down. Tournament referee Brian Earley, clutching his ever-present walkie talkie came out quickly and acted decisively. “We’re going in. Take them in,” Earley told the security team, which escorted Nadal and Djokovic back into the locker room.

After a one hour, 57-minute rain delay, the players returned to the court at about 7:48 and Djokovic struck the serve that officially resumed play at 7:59.

Serving at 5-6, Nadal bumped a drop volley into net to fall to 30-all. Djokovic drilled a backhand down the line to draw an error and earn break point.

Reading the serve down the T, Djokovic moved right to cut off the angle and drove a forehand return down the middle that flirted with the front of the baseline. Forced to respond off his back foot, Nadal could only lift an off-balance forehand into the net as Djokovic broke to seze the second set.

Winding up for a windmill fist-pump, the veins bulging in Djokovic’s neck were visible from courtside as he trotted to his court-side seat deadlocked at one set apiece.

Sprinting seven feet behind the baseline, back in the territory typically occupied by ball kids, Nadal somehow angled a backhand pass crosscourt to earn triple break point at 0-40 in the third game of the third set. Djokovic erased the first with an ace and saved the second when Nadal netted a backhand. On the third break point, Djokovic slice a serve wide, drew the short ball he desired, but lifted a crosscourt forehand wide as Nadal broke for 2-1. Nadal quickly consolidated for 3-1.

Cranking up the pressure like as if tightening a tennis vise, Nadal earned five break points in the seventh game of the fourth set. Serving under immense pressure, Djokovic played with more aggression on the break points and time after time denied Nadal a second break. Attacking net, Djokovic saved a fifth break point when Nadal mis-fired on a backhand pass. A gam that featured 16 points and spanned more than 11 minutes finally ended when Nadal knocked a backhand into net.

Djokovic dug out a hard-fought hold for 3-4, but his legs and lungs paid a steep price.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Nadal went toe-to-toe with Djokovic in a demanding rally that spanned more than 20 shots. It ended with Djokovic clocking a crosscourt forehand winner. Another fierce forehand down the line drew Djokovic to 15-30.

A determined Djokovic ripped a forehand crosscourt drawing a Nadal backhand beyond the baseline as Djokovic broke at love for a 3-1 second-set lead screaming “Come on!” as his parents jumped out of their seats in support.

Nadal had been broken in just two of 91 games in the tournament, but Djokovic broke him twice in the first seven service games of the final.

Whipping his backhand down the line to set up his inside-out forehand, Djokovic hammered an inside-out forehand to hold at love for 4-1. The Serbian strung together 11 consecutive points and appeared to have the second set under control.

Nadal had other ideas.

The USTA announced total attendance for the US Open was 712,976 total attendance.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Bryans Claim The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The net divides the court like a nylon wall, but resembled a bridge bringing two teams, three nations, more than 20,000 fans and an often overlooked form of tennis together today. In a high-quality clash between dynamic doubles duos, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match.

Facing mini-break deficits in both tie breakers, the Bryans bumped up their level of play when it mattered most.

“I think today we were phenomenal. I mean, there was a 50 miles an hour wind coming down the court, and I thought we were seeing the ball great,” Bob Bryan said.  “It’s awesome when you can see the finish line.  There’s one more match to go. You could leave it all on the line. That’s what kept pushing us forward.  You don’t think about being down a mini break in a finals of a Grand Slam.”

They own two of the fastest sets of hands in tennis — so fast they could jointly juggle jagged bits of broken baseball bats without concern of contracting splinters — but by the end of this encounter, the twins had their hands full at net and were at a temporary loss for a reply.

That moment came after the Bryan brothers played what they called one of the best matches of their professional careers as they leaped into each other’s arms after an ace ended the match. Father Wayne Bryan, the twins’ first coach and long-time doubles promoter who rarely attends his sons matches because he gets too nervous watching them play, leaped out of his seat simultaneously in an eruption of emotion.

In a season in which the Bryan brothers broke the record for most Tour-level doubles titles in the Open Era when they captured their 62nd title in Los Angeles in July, they now stand behind the Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, for most major titles in the Open Era. The Woodies on 11 major titles together and the Bryans are on pace to shatter that mark if they stay healthy.

The net divides the court, but two become one when Bopanna and  Qureshi share the doubles court. Sport serves as a source of unity as Bopanna, born in Bangalore, India, and Qureshi, from Lahore, Pakistan have reached an accord on court that contrasts with the agitation that can exist between their neighboring nations.

The pair have become promoters of peace and in a gesture larger than tennis Qureshi took time out during the trophy presentation to reiterate the message he and Bopanna have share throughout their partnership: they spend their professional lives striking shots, but peace is their ultimate aim.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” Quershi said. “I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving, and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans want and the rest of the world wants.  We all on the same side.”

Those sentiments struck a chord in his opponents.

“It choked me up. I could see him; he was quivering a little bit,” Bob Bryan said. “Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt.”

Both Indian and Pakistani fans sat side-by-side cheering on the pair, the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations sat in adjacent seats and after the match, the Pakistani ambassador  presented the Bryan brothers with matching traditional scarves made from ancient cloth as a show of appreciation for the donation the twins made to help victims of the floods in Pakistan.

“When it comes down to it, a lot of people in Pakistan who don’t have homes and are out on the street. What they’re doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special,” Mike Bryan said. “A sport can bring people together.”

It was one of the rare moments when the action after a final was even more profound than the play itself.

“What they are doing is a lot more important than winning the US Open,” Bob Bryan said.

At a time when religious and political extremes can create so much diviseness in the world can two men running around in shorts smacking felt sphere over a net truly make any impact?

Winning doubles demands cooperation, communication, mutual respect and shared problem solving  — the very qualities people are sometimes resistant to apply in rallies of rhetoric.

On changeovers during their early-round matches, Bopanna and Qureshi watched with joy as the United Nations ambassadors to their respective nationsl shared smiles and conversation giving both men a glimmer of hope that while tennis can’t solve complex international issues it might just start a dialogue

“We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach.  I think it’s above all the religion and politics,” Qureshi said. “Seeing both ambassadors sitting together and going for one cause obviously is a start.  So I would take it in a positive way.  And like Rohan says all the time:  If you can change few personal people’s mind on Indian or Pakistan’s side, I think it’s a great thing.”

The unity the two men exhibit on court is being reflect back at them at the mixed crowds they saw at their US Open matches.

“Crowd is getting better.  More Indians and Pakistanis coming.  They’re all mixed together sitting in the crowd.  You can’t tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian,” Qureshi said. “That’s the beauty about sports.  That’s the beauty about, I guess, our playing.  Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause.  It’s really good to be part of it.”

Competing for a cause binds both teams together.

Five years ago, the Bryan brothers, their father Wayne and several of tennis’ top doubles stars, including Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi sat in interview room one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium explaining why they were filing a lawsuit against the ATP.

The lawsuit, which was filed on September 1st, 2005, alleged that the ATP’s experimental efforts to “enhance” doubles competition was in fact a concerted effort by tournament directors to diminish and eventually eliminate  doubles players’ ability to gain entry into main draws as a cost-cutting measure to save the tournament’s money.

“There is no credibility left for the ATP,” Knowles said that day. “They are basically trying to annihilate one form of the game, which is doubles..”

Essentially, the players sued the very union that was created to represent them and asserted the ATP was placing the interests of tournament directors above its own players when it came to doubles.

“Five years ago we were sitting in this room giving a press conference on trying to save doubles,” Mike Bryan said. “It was on its way out.  My dad worked behind the scenes for about a year and got it done, and with a lot of top players.  Now doubles is strong.  I mean, right out there it was just a packed house for a couple of doubles teams.That was the best atmosphere.  That’s a TV match, which is huge.  So I mean, we’re very happy that we’ve been able to help doubles out.”

The twins from Camarillo, California went on to win the Open the week after the lawsuit to become  the first brothers to lift the U.S. Open doubles title trophy since 1924 when the Kinsey brothers, Howard and Robert, accomplished the feat.

The Bryans believed they saved their best tennis for the final; some observers believe they saved much more that that.

“Doubles seems to have been on life support for so long,” said Hall of Famer John McEnroe, widely regarded as perhaps the finest doubles player of the Open Era. “The Bryan brothers play with so much energy and enthusiasm for the game. They seem to be singlehandedly saving doubles.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.