It took four hours and 49 minutes for No. 2 Nadal to discard Medvedev, and how much the gutted-out victory meant to him was painted all over his face afterward in a way that aligned with how Jimmy Connors described him earlier in the day:
As mentioned by commentators Chris Fowler and John McEnroe on the ESPN broadcast, this one will mean even more to Nadal because of the unexpected way it played out against the new world No. 4.
Nadal showed some vulnerability to start the match with his first-serve percentage at sub-40 early in the first set. His first-service game even warranted an explanation because of a time violation—an issue that would persist for Nadal throughout the match:
However, Medvedev didn't pounce on the 33-year-old Spaniard taking time to settle into top form. Despite his slow start, Nadal finished winning 77 percent of his first serves and 77 percent of possible net points—edging Medvedev in both categories.
Medvedev, in his first career Grand Slam final, showed his inexperience early on and finished with 57 unforced errors. He double-faulted four times, but those were outweighed by 14 aces—bringing his tournament-leading total to 102.
The 23-year-old Russian began by consistently lobbing his drop shots too high, which allowed Nadal enough time to reach them. Nadal pulled away to a two-set lead at least in part because he took advantage of Medvedev's court positioning.
And then Medvedev truly arrived in the third set, battling out grueling rally after grueling rally to launch an inspired comeback to force a fifth and final set:
From there, the intensity mounted. Medvedev began hitting the drop shots he was previously missing as well as moving Nadal around the court the way he was previously being moved. A critical turning point came when Nadal, down 40-0 and ready to concede a 3-2 lead in the fifth set, ended up taking the 3-2 lead.
But, just as he did down two sets to none, Medvedev saved two match points before Nadal was finally able to put him away.
Nadal was undoubtedly shaken off his game after the third set—blaming crowd noise and holding up Medvedev and costing himself with more time violations—but adjusted throughout to outlast Medvedev. He has done that way more times than not:
On top of his dominance when jumping out to a one-set lead, Nadal is now 209-1 all-time when winning the first two sets. And for winning his fourth career U.S. Open title (2010, '13, '17, 19), Nadal added $3.85 million to his pocketbook. Medvedev will leave New York City with $1.9 million more than what he came with. Below is the full payout table, courtesy of the tournament's official website.
Men's and Women's Singles Payouts Per Player
Round of 16: $280,000
Round of 32: $163,000
Round of 64: $100,000
Round of 128: $58,000
While not the result Medvedev wanted, dropping to 0-5 in five-setters all-time, he has plenty to be proud of from Flushing Meadows and his play leading up to it:
Medvedev went from the tournament's villain in the earlier rounds to earning respect from a pro-Nadal crowd at the final, who cheered his efforts, chanted his name and gave him a standing ovation when he won the third set.
Following his loss, Medvedev endeared himself to the crowd even more:
However, the long-term conversation will revolve around Nadal and Federer and which one reigns as the best men's tennis player in the world, now or ever. Do we really have to wait until January for the Australian Open?
Stats via the U.S. Open website.