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Nadal completes career Grand Slam, but says Federer is still the best

posted 14 Sep 2010, 04:20 by Mpelembe   [ updated 14 Sep 2010, 04:22 ]

Rafael Nadal completes career grand slam with his first U.S. Open title, but the Spaniard says Roger Federer remains the best.

Rafael Nadal sealed his place among the tennis greats on Monday (September 13), beating Novak Djokovic to win the U.S. Open and complete his collection of grand slam titles.

With eight grand slams already under his belt before this tournament began, the Spaniard was already assured a spot in the sport's elite, but conquering New York elevated him to a whole new level and left no doubts about who is the number one player in the world.

Nadal overcame the distraction of a two-hour relay delay and losing his first set of the tournament to beat the brave but ultimately outclassed Djokovic 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2 after three hours and 43 minutes of unrelenting tension at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams," Nadal afterwards.

Djokovic, who had beaten Roger Federer in an exhausting five-set semi-final Saturday, expelled any doubts about his fighting qualities with a courageous performance, fending off an astonishing 20 break points during the course of the match, but the pressure eventually wore him down.

"That's what's so frustrating, a little bit. He's getting better each time you play him. He's so mentally strong and dedicated to this sport. You know, he has all the capabilities, everything he needs, in order to be the biggest ever, my opinion," said the gracious Djokovic.

"He has proven to the world that he's the best in this moment, so there is no question about it."

After losing the second set on a sloppy service game, Nadal ran away with the last two -- clinching the victory when Djokovic hit a forehand wide -- and collapsed on court as the enormity of his achievement sank in.

He warmly embraced Djokovic at the net then dropped to his knee as the centre court rose as one to applaud him. When he was handed the trophy, he raised it above his head, as thousands of flashbulbs lit up a perfect New York night.

Nadal had already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon singles titles and by adding the U.S. Open he joined Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer as the only men to win the four majors.

At age 24, he was the third youngest to achieve the feat and his best may be still to come.

Nadal became the first man since Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in the same year and he now has the chance to hold all four concurrently if he can add the Australian Open in January.

With nine grand slam titles in total -- five French Opens, two Wimbledon, one Australian Open and now one U.S. Open, he climbed to seventh place on the all-time list and Federer's record of 16 could be within his reach if he stays healthy. For Nadal, Federer's titles place the Swiss maestro above the rest.

"Remain a lot of titles, so that's no doubt about that, no? I think I am more than happy that with my titles, for sure -- I think is talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he's much better than me, so that's the true at that moment. I think will be the true all my life," Nadal explained.

The U.S. Open, played on hardcourt, had always been Nadal's biggest hurdle because of the wear and tear it puts on his troublesome knees. His great rival Federer had won five times, but has come up short in each of the last two years - and at 29, Federer's strangle-hold on the event appears to be slipping.

"My goal is all the time and all my life was the same, is keep improving and feel myself better player next year than what I felt this year. Being better player doesn't mean you going to win more than you did, because win or lose sometimes is part of the moment and part of the confidence," said the new champion.

Nadal arrived in New York this year, fresher than ever and armed with a new and improved serve that enabled him to sail through his opening matches without fuss.

"Especially on the 5-4 I have 15-30. So that was a very important moment, and at that moment I did something that I never did: three serves, one ace and two service winners. So that's the big experience for me, and believe me, that's good," explained Nadal about the key service game in the third set.

Djokovic has always been at his best on hardcourts. He made the final at Flushing Meadows in 2007, losing to Federer, then won the Australian Open the following season.

He fought off two match points to beat Federer in the semi-finals Saturday and got a lucky break when rain washed out Sunday's final, giving him an extra day to rest.

Mother Nature helped him out again on Monday when the final was halted as a thunderstorm arrived midway through the second set, forcing the players, officials and more than 20,000 spectators to run for cover.

Djokovic lost the first and then gave up a 4-1 lead in the second but battled back to 4-4 when play was halted. When they returned to perfect conditions, he caught Nadal napping and snatched the second but it was never going to be enough against a man with destiny in his sights.

For Djokovic, who moved up in the rankings to number two in the world with his performance at the Open, the loss will only push him onwards to challenge Nadal and Federer.

"Of course, I am feeling bad about my loss. I wanted that trophy, and I know I gave my maximum to get it even tonight," said the Serb. "But, you know, when I sleep over the night, tomorrow I will wake up as a new man. You know, I will continue on working hard and waiting for the next chance to come."