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Rafael Nadal's 5 most memorable match wins at the US Open

Nadal celebrates his 4th US Open title after beating Medvedev in the 2019 final
Nadal celebrates his 4th US Open title after beating Medvedev in the 2019 final
Bhargav

Rafael Nadal beat first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Matteo Berrettini of Italy in straight sets to reach his 27th Grand Slam final and fifth at Flushing Meadows. In the process, the Spanish lefthander emulated Roger Federer as the only players in the Open Era to contest at least 5 finals at all the four Majors.

Two days later, the Spaniard beat first-time Grand Slam finalist Daniil Medvedev of Russia in a pulsating, near five-hour, five-set slugfest to win his 4th title at the US Open and 19th Grand Slam crown.

Nadal's 64 match wins at Flushing Meadows is the third-best by an active player (8th best all-time). Here's looking back at five of the Spaniard's most memorable match wins at the final Grand Slam tournament of the season.

#5 2018 Third Round: Beat Karen Khachanov 5-7 7-5 7-6(7) 7-6(3)

Nadal survives Khachanov onslaught at the 2018 US Open
Nadal survives Khachanov onslaught at the 2018 US Open

22-year-old Karen Khachanov, in his first third-round match at the US Open in three tournament appearances, faced the world. no. 1 and defending champion Rafael Nadal for a place in the second week.

Consigning his four previous matches against the world's top-ranked player to distant memory, Khachanov burst out of the blocks, taking the first set and then securing a break in the second as Nadal appeared dazed by the ferocity of his opponent's groundstrokes.

Nadal sensed the opportunity to fight back when Khachanov failed to serve out the second set for a two-set lead at 5-4 and the Spaniard reeled off three successive games to even the contest at a set apiece.

Unfazed by the loss of the second set, Khachanov remained solid on serve and laid siege on the Nadal serve. However, he saw a breakpoint come and go in the sixth game of the third set which then proceeded to a tiebreak. Nadal exhibited his superior tactical nous by winning a 39-point rally to arrive at set point which he duly converted for a two sets to one lead.

Nadal rode his momentum and served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set, only for Khachanov to fight back, breaking the Spaniard to love. In an epic tiebreak that ensued, Nadal finally managed to close out a hard-fought four-hour battle royale to book his berth in the fourth round.

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#4 2013 Final: Beat Novak Djokovic 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1

2013 US Open final
2013 US Open final

After missing the 2012 edition of the tournament due to injury, Rafael Nadal arrived in his third straight title match at Flushing Meadows where he faced familiar foe Novak Djokovic across the net for the third time.

The pair had split their two previous meetings at the last Grand Slam tournament of the year, Nadal beating Djokovic in the 2010 final and the Serb returning the favour in the 2011 title match.

Nadal made the brisker start by breaking Djokovic twice to take the opening set only for the Serb to restore parity by breaking his opponent's serve three times in the second set to even the match.

Riding the momentum, Djokovic used his forehand to pummel Nadal into submission as the Spaniard coughed up an early break in the third and was a point away from going down a double break. However, Nadal managed to hold on, keeping within touching distance of the Serb and that would prove crucial as the Spaniard broke back to make it three games all in the third.

Djokovic remained unrelenting in his onslaught as he eked out three consecutive breakpoints. Once again though Nadal dug deep to hold serve by reeling off five straight points. The Spaniard soon turned the tables on his Serbian opponent in the next game by breaking serve to take a two sets to one lead.

Stung by the loss of the third set despite being the better player for large swathes, the Serb's level plummetted in the fourth. The collective physical effort of the previous three sets finally took its toll on Djokovic, as Nadal conceded just one game to close out a 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 win to secure his second title at Flushing Meadows.

With his win, Nadal became the first player since Andy Roddick in 2003 to complete the Coupe Rogers - Cincinnati - US Open treble in the same season as the Spaniard stretched his unbeaten record in the North American summer to 22-0.

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#3 2018 Quarterfinals: Beat Dominic Thiem 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7(4) 7-6(5)

2018 US Open Quarterfinals
2018 US Open Quarterfinals

In one of the best hardcourt matches of his career, Dominic Thiem burst out the blocks by bagelling Rafael Nadal to take the opening set in 24 minutes. It was Nadal's first 0-6 set at the US Open in 14 years since a second-round defeat to Andy Roddick in 2004.

Thiem displayed tactical naivety by refusing to abandon his high-risk high-reward style of play though. A strategy that paid rich dividends for the Austrian in the first set began to unravel in the second set. As Thiem's intensity dropped and unforced errors crept in, Nadal responded with two breaks of the Austrian's serve to square the match at a set apiece.

Nadal took the third set 7-5 and was keen to end a physical match in four sets, following gruelling wins over Karen Khachanov and Nikoloz Basilashvili in the two previous rounds. But Thiem survived two 15-40 situations on serve and the set proceeded to a tiebreak where the Austrian dominated to force a decider.

The Austrian staved off three successive break points at 5-5 in the fifth as a deciding set tiebreaker ensued. Both players remained solid on serve and at 5-5 in the tiebreak, both players were within two points of a victory and a place in the semifinals.

Nadal then arrived at match point, but Thiem sensed the opportunity to force the issue and get back on level terms by venturing forward. However, Nadal was up to the task as the Spaniard produced a fine defensive lob which Thiem missed.

The Spaniard lived to fight another day on a night when his opponent won six more points than him.

Thiem would aptly surmise after the match, "If we skip the first set it was an open match from beginning to the end".

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#2 2010 Final: Beat Novak Djokovic 6-4 5-7 6-2 6-2

2010 US Open final
2010 US Open final

Following semifinal reverses in his previous two tournament appearances, against Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro respectively, Nadal beat Russia's Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets to arrive in his first title match at the US Open. In the other semifinal, Djokovic saved two match points to thwart a first-ever Federer-Nadal Flushing Meadows meeting.

Nadal started as the favourite in his first clash with Djokovic at a hardcourt Grand Slam, having won each of the pair's four previous Grand Slam meetings and as many tournament finals.

Despite trailing Djokovic 3-7 in hard court meetings, Nadal, who arrived in the title match without dropping a set, took the opening set 6-4. The Spaniard was now one-third of the way towards emulating Neale Fraser (1960) by winning at Flushing Meadows without dropping a set.

But Djokovic was made of sterner stuff and refused to go away without a fight. The Serb made the brisker start in the second, breaking Nadal twice to take a 4-1 lead only to squander his double-break advantage. At 4-4 30-30 on Djokovic's serve, rain intervened and the final was abandoned for the day.

Djokovic returned the next day to seize back his lost momentum by holding serve for a 5-4 lead. Even as a tiebreak loomed, the Serb fired a fizzing return at the feet of Nadal in the twelfth game of the set to even the match at a set apiece.

Stung by the loss of his first set in the tournament, Nadal upped the ante and rode an early break in the third set to eke out a crucial two sets to one lead. A weary Djokovic failed to respond in kind, as Nadal broke his opponent twice in the fourth set to close out a hard-fought 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2 win for his first Flushing Meadows title.

In the process, Nadal emulated Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer as the only men in the Open Era to win all four Grand Slams and became the first player since Laver to win the French, Wimbledon and US Open titles in the same calendar year.

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#1 2019 Final: Beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4

2019 US Open final
2019 US Open final

Following the early exits of fellow pre-tournament favourites Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, Nadal started as an overwhelming favourite in his fifth US Open final, where he faced young Russian Daniil Medvedev.

The Spaniard had conceded just three games in his only previous meeting with Medvedev in the Coupe Rogers final in Montreal earlier in the season but it was Medvedev who made the first move in the final, breaking Nadal for a 2-1 lead after squandering a breakpoint in the Spaniard's opening game of the match.

Medvedev failed to consolidate the break and Nadal was back on serve at two games all. Nadal looked to seize the momentum in the eighth game but saw three break points come and go as Medvedev won a cat-and-mouse net exchange and then produced a backhand winner to hold serve. The Spaniard's pressure remained unrelenting though, and Medvedev cracked in the twelfth game to concede the opening set.

The Russian dug himself out of a 0-40 hole in the fourth game of the second set to hold serve but Nadal came good on his fifth break point to take a 4-2 lead. It was a lead the Spaniard would not relinquish as he took a commanding two-set lead.

In 138 previous editions of the tournament, only one player had recovered from a two-set deficit to win the final: Pancho Gonzalez against Ted Schroeder (16-18 2-6 6-1 6-2 6-4) in 1949.

Nadal moved to within three holds of a straight-set win when he broke Medvedev for a 3-2 lead in the third. But the Russian's response was prompt as he got back on serve in the next game.

Medvedev held for a 6-5 lead and a blistering forehand winner set up three consecutive set points for the Russian. Nadal saved the first with a serve-and-volley but was powerless to save the second as Medvedev reduced the arrears to two sets to one.

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev

In a competitive fourth set, with Nadal serving to stay in it at 4-5, the Spaniard's forehand misfired to give Medvedev a set point which the Russian gleefully accepted with a brilliant backhand return winner.

For the first time in ten years, the Flushing Meadows final went the distance, as Medvedev became the first player after Federer (2008 Wimbledon) to recover from a two-set deficit against Nadal in a Major final and force a fifth set.

Medvedev rode his momentum to hold serve in the opening game of the fifth and had three break points in the next game, one of them on a Nadal second serve. But Nadal saved them all to avoid falling behind an early break in the decider. The Russian looked good for a 3-2 lead when he arrived at 40-0 on serve only for Nadal to get back to deuce and grab the break on his second opportunity.

Nadal promptly consolidated the break for a 4-2 lead and broke Medvedev for a second time in the set to take a 5-2 lead. The final had more twists though as Medvedev broke back for 3-5 and saved two championship points to hold for 4-5.

Serving for the championship for the second time, Nadal conceded the first point of the game and narrowly avoided falling behind 0-30 as Medvedev hesitated to go for a volley at the net.

Hindered by his failure to land enough first serves in the game, Nadal went down a breakpoint but Medvedev rued not converting the opportunity on the Spaniard's second serve. Two points later, Nadal collapsed to the ground in ecstasy following a Medvedev error, as the Spaniard joined fellow lefthander John McEnroe in winning a fourth title at the US Open.

Nadal improved to 3-3 in five-set Grand Slam finals (lost to Federer at 2007 Wimbledon, 2017 Australian Open, and to Djokovic at 2012 Australian Open) as Medvedev narrowly failed in his bid to become the 55th different player in the Open Era to hoist a Grand Slam trophy.

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Edited by Arvind Sriram

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