Rafael Nadal had to leave the ATP throne in 2009 despite winning the Australian Open, struggling with injuries but regaining form in the last couple of months, eager to return to the top in 2010. He achieved that in style, winning seven titles, including all three Masters 1000 titles on clay and three Majors!
The Spaniard conquered his first US Open crown in September to complete a Career Grand Slam at 24, becoming the fourth and youngest player who achieved that in the Open era, following Rod Laver, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer.
It was also the ninth Major crown for Rafa, moving ahead of the names like Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl, who ended their careers on eight. Rafa became the first player with three Major titles in a row on different surfaces, and this is one of the most memorable tournaments he ever won, going all the way in New York as the first left-handed player since John McEnroe in 1984.
The Spaniard lost in the semis in Toronto and the quarters in Cincinnati before finding his A-game in New York, rattling off 21 out of 22 sets and beating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a grueling three hours and 43 minutes of outstanding tennis on September 13.
It was one of Nadal’s best serving displays (106 holds in 111 games), unleashing fury from his initial shot and fending off 14 out of 16 break chances in the opening six matches to topple the rivals in straight sets and advance into the title clash against Novak.
Teymuraz Gabashvili and Denis Istomin challenged Rafa in the opening two rounds on a swift hard court, but world no. 1 found his rhythm to prevail without too many troubles, untouchable in the next four encounters to reach the final in a great spirit, highly motivated to lift the last Major he was missing.
Djokovic managed to break Rafa three times from four opportunities, and that wasn’t enough against such a strong rival, dropping 42% of the points in his games and offering Rafa no less than 25 chances for a break. The Serb managed to fend off 20 of those, but five successful return games carried Rafa to get over the finish line in four sets, writing tennis history in New York.
Nadal forged a significant advantage with his second serve and the fact he tamed his shots more efficiently, dominating the shortest and more advanced exchanges to earn the victory fair and square, missing a chance to bring the match home even earlier.
A backhand bullet gave Rafa a break at 15 in the opening game, confirming it with a hold in game two after a vast forehand error from Djokovic. It was Nadal’s turn to miss a forehand at 2-1, losing serve only for the third time since the beginning of the tournament before securing another break in game five after a forehand down the line winner.
Three winners in game eight pushed Rafa 5-3 in front, holding at 15 two games later after Novak’s backhand error to bring the opener home in 50 minutes.
In 2010, Rafael Nadal completed a Career Grand Slam in New York at 24.
Djokovic was there to fight, breaking at love in the fourth game of the second set to create a 3-1 lead and holding at love a few minutes later thanks to a fantastic forehand winner to increase his advantage.
Nadal broke back at 2-4 after another stunning backhand down the line shot, leveling the score at 4-4 with a service winner that gave him momentum. The match had to be suspended for two hours after a few points in the ninth game.
Novak kept his focus high once they returned, stealing Rafa’s serve at 6-5 with a deep return to take the set and level the overall score at 1-1 after two hours of a grueling battle between the finest baseliners in the game.
Nadal bounced back and broke in the third game of the third set when Djokovic sprayed a forehand error, becoming the dominant player on the court in the rest of the set and sailing through his service games to keep the pressure on Novak after creating 11 break chances overall!
Rafa stayed on that one break, although it was all he needed, embracing the set with two back-to-back service winners in game ten and moving a set away from the title in just under three hours. Novak was unable to follow that pace, spraying another forehand long in the third game of the fourth set to drift further away from the title against the rival who held everything under control in those moments.
Hold at love moved Nadal 3-1 in front before seizing another break in game five when Djokovic netted a routine shot from his right-wing that let him down completely. Rafa saved a break chance in game six before opening a 5-1 gap with a service winner, forcing Novak to serve to stay in the match.
The Serb held, but that was all he could do, sending yet another forehand wide in game nine to hand the game and the triumph to Nadal, who fell to the court in disbelief, starting a massive celebration of what had been one of his most important wins ever, delivered in such a dominant style.