FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
RAFA NADAL edged closer to Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record tally – but not before brilliant Daniil Medvedev gave him one hell of fright.
The super Spaniard eventually saw off tricky Russian Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7 4-6, 6-2 to bag his 19th major – and fourth US Open crown – to move just one behind Fed in the race to become the most successful player in history.
Yet an astonishing, drama packed ending saw an initially predictable final amazingly spark into life.
Nadal appeared to have too much firepower for the lanky Russian, who battled hard but was unable to knock the 33-year-old off his stride.
Then, two sets down and staring down the barrel, the No5 seed mounted a quite incredible comeback.
He just fell short in the end yet it really was sensational.
A delighted, but relieved, Nadal said: “I had the match under control but Daniil has had one of the best summers ever and everyone has seen why he is so high in the rankings.
“The way he was able to fight and change the rhythm of the match was incredible.
“This was one of the most emotional nights of my career.”
The man who became the player the Big Apple boo-boys love to hate in earlier rounds suddenly had his name being chanted from all corners of the biggest tennis stadium on earth after producing some stunning stuff.
A run of brilliant games when all seemed lost sent the new world No4’s confidence – and quality – through the roof.
His unorthodox style was causing Nadal all kinds of problems.
He looks like a Russian Rodney Trotter. And Only Fools or Horses wouldn’t back him to become a major champion in the future.
What a competitor. The fight on show was reminiscent of Nadal at his very best.
Medvedev, 23, has won more games than anyone else this year – and for a crazy stage of a crazy match, it looked like the Muscovite, who has reached four finals this summer and bagged one title, was set to land the biggest victory of his career.
An audacious backhand down the line at the end of the fourth broke Nadal to send one of the best US Open finals in recent memory into a fifth and deciding set.
He had the opportunity to break the Nadal serve early in the clincher but once that opportunity slipped through his grasp, the Russian looked to be running on empty.
The fight still flickered – another break and another time violation for Nadal saw the man from Mallorca stumble within sight of the finishing line.
He got there in the end – just.
But Medvedev said: “Playing Rafa is like a joke and there are hundreds of millions of kids who will be inspired.
“At two sets down I was preparing my speech because I thought it would be over soon.
“I know earlier in the tournament, I said things the fans maybe took the wrong way but it’s because of your energy that I was in the final.
“I was being booed for a reason but I am a human being and I can change and because of the fans I was fighting like hell. This match will always be in my mind.”
While Medvedev was aiming to become the first player born in the 1990s to win a slam, Nadal has now landed a record fifth major since turning 30.
The box-office Spaniard, cheered on by film star Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, was typically pumped up and in the mood.
The Wall Street actor left after the end of the second set. He missed one of the most dramatic matches ever played with more twists and turns than one of his own Hollywood blockbusters.
The Russian, playing in his first Grand Slam final, is a canny customer and caused the world No2 plenty of problems early on, mustering break points in his opening two service games.
He broke for 2-1 only for Nadal to hit straight back.
The first set was nip and tuck but in-form Medvedev just couldn’t keep the man from Mallorca at bay.
Nadal, in his 27th major showpiece, broke his rival’s serve to land the first and took complete control in the second after moving 4-2 ahead.
The world No4 tried everything yet Nadal, who also bagged the French Open this year as well as reaching the Australian Open, was too consistent.
With nothing to lose, Medvedev became more proactive and mixed things up rushing to the net more in the third – and a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium loved every minute.
All of a sudden , he had three set points and ,amazingly, the chance to get back into a game which looked lost.
The rising star took his chance – and the crowd were loving it.
It meant Medvedev joined Austrian Dominic Thiem as the only players under 30 to have won a set in a major final.
It also meant it was game well and truly on.
Medvedev was inspired, dragging himself and the crowd through a roller coaster fourth set and into a decider.
Nadal , whose service games last longer than a politician takes to make a sensible decision, was given a second time violation by the umpire to supercharge emotions even more.
A rip-roaring start to the decider saw Med quickly earn – and then waste – a break point opportunity.
Back came Nadal with his own chance to break.
The Russian was beginning to look tired and soon enough, the Spaniard edged ahead before sealing the deal amid raucous, fist pumping, bicep bulging scenes here at the end of four hours and 50 minutes of pure sporting theatre.
Nadal, five years younger than 38 year-old Fed, now looks nailed on to eclipse the great Swiss next year with Novak Djokovic also snapping at his heels.
On this evidence, Medvedev could join the party too.