Rafael Nadal is a U.S. Open champion for the fourth time in his career.
The No. 2 seed in this year's tournament defeated the fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in a thrilling five-set showdown in Sunday's final at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York; 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. It is the 19th Grand Slam title of his legendary career, bringing him within one of Roger Federer for the all-time lead.
While Medvedev reached the final without playing Federer or Novak Djokovic after the former lost to Grigor Dimitrov and the latter retired against Stan Wawrinka—in the quarterfinals and the fourth round, respectively—he was not fortunate enough to make it through the entire tournament without facing one of the sport's Big Three.
Nadal made him pay, following up his titles in 2010, 2013 and 2017 with another U.S. Open championship.
It was anything but easy.
The victor needed nearly five hours and a grueling fifth set to dispatch Medvedev after appearing to be in full control when he won the opening two sets. The championship appeared to slip through Nadal's grasp when he lost the third and fourth sets to a challenger 10 years his junior, but he prevailed in multiple long rallies in the decisive one to once again seize the momentum.
Nadal saved three break points in his first service game of the fifth set, unleashed an incredible backhand to the corner to end an extended rally and earn the first break, and then found himself in full control when Medvedev sailed a smash long and lost another break.
While Medvedev earned a break back with the help of Nadal's time violations, the Spaniard finally put him away with the serve.
Even in defeat, the Russian impressed in his quest for a first Grand Slam title. He had never advanced past the round of 32 in this tournament and lost to Nadal in their only other career head-to-head matchup in the final of the ATP Masters 1000 Canada earlier this year.
There was a clear advantage on paper for the eventual champion, but Medvedev fully established himself as a household name in New York.
In addition to a straight-sets win over Dimitrov in the semifinals and a victory over Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, he generated headlines through his interactions with the fans. Louisa Thomas of the New Yorker called him the tournament's "antihero" for exchanging barbs with the booing supporters and thanking them for providing energy and motivation to advance.
The boos largely came after Medvedev threw his racket and flipped off an umpire, and he seemed to thrive in the trolling role.
Still, Nadal was the biggest story and wasted little time establishing control of the match. He notched a critical early break after he lost two of the first three games and then broke again to avoid a tiebreaker and win the first set 7-5.
It was an ideal start for the champion looking to take advantage of previous exits from Federer and Djokovic in the race for the most Grand Slams in history. Federer has 20 and Djokovic has 16, but Nadal insisted he is still pleased with his career wherever he ends on that list.
"Of course, I would love to be the one who achieves more Grand Slams, but I still sleep very well without being the one who has more Grand Slams," Nadal said, per Jim Slater of Agence France-Presse (h/t Yahoo Sports). "I am happy about my career. I am very happy about what I'm doing. I'm going to keep working hard to try to produce chances. Sunday is one. It's just one more chance, that's all. My opponents are going to keep playing."
Keep playing is exactly what Medvedev did.
Even though Nadal cruised to a 6-3 win in the second set with a single break, the runner-up showed plenty of fight when he battled from down a break in the third set with his back against the wall. He broke right back to make it 3-3 and prevented a tiebreak with another break to win the set 7-5.
Medvedev appeared to be the fresher player entering the fourth set, which was a testament to his durability. Even with the age advantage, he was playing in his fourth consecutive final.
He ensured the durability would be tested even more by forcing the decisive set with a single break in the fourth set. Suddenly, it was Medvedev controlling the match with his serve and taking advantage of limited break opportunities in a complete reversal from the first two sets.
There would be one more switch, though, as Nadal found his serve in crunch time and won 85 percent of his first-service points in the fifth set, per the U.S. Open's official website. Between that and the two break points he won, there was no stopping the 19-time Grand Slam winner with the championship hanging in the balance.