When Spanish star Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the final of the 2013 U.S. Open Grand Slam tournament, the living legend set the stage for a monumental 2014 season.
The major championship brings Nadal’s career total to 13 Grand Slam titles. The momentum from a strong comeback season will carry over to 2014 and help the Spaniard continue his assault on the all-time record.
The 13th championship moves Nadal into third place on the all-time men's singles list, just ahead of Roy Emerson and just one behind Pete Sampras.
Roger Federer holds the all-time lead in men’s major singles championships with 17.
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Nadal infamously battled nagging knee issues leading up to 2013, but his stellar play and recent ability to stay away from injuries is a great sign moving into next season.
A tie for second place on the all-time list, and eventually holding the spot on his own, is within reach in 2014, as Nadal will be the early favorite for the French Open and the favorite to defend his crown at next year’s U.S. Open.
As long as he stays healthy, Nadal's win Monday night over Djokovic should catapult him to one of the best seasons of his career and cement his status as one of the greatest of all time.
Nadal’s uncle, Toni, told the Associated Press via ESPN about how injuries have played a role in the star’s career, thus far, and how great he is when close to 100 percent healthy:
The hardest part is the pain, always. You have pain, and you play. But the problem is you never know if you can run so fast, like before, or if you can play against the best players. From one day to (the next), it's difficult, always. Djokovic was so good in the second set and the third. But Rafael was always there, there, there. And in the end, he won. He was so strong in his mind. That was the difference.
Djokovic is playing great tennis right now, and despite costing himself some serious momentum and points throughout this matchup, he proved to be one of the toughest tests Nadal will ever face in his career.
While Nadal had the distinct power advantage, he was able to contend against the height and speed along the baseline of his challenger and maintain his high level of play even in losing efforts.
That steady pace frustrated Djokovic and gave Nadal the victory.
It was incredibly important to not only see Nadal remain physically healthy throughout this match but also keep his mental edge, even as the Djoker threw everything in his arsenal against the Spaniard.
Monday’s victory will provide the career momentum Nadal needs to capture at least two majors in 2014 and draw closer to the all-time record.