Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 at the US Open on Monday in a final interrupted by a thunderstorm. Two thunderstorms, actually, if you count Nole’s tennis in that second set. Djokovic had a few chances, and made good on them. He splayed himself all over the court in a courageous display of kamikaze tennis, joints WD-40 slick, air pressing out of him like a bellows. I bet he ended the match a half inch taller than when he started it.
But only his most die-hard fans (love those Nole-Mania t-shirts, by the way) – ever gave him a real chance to win the title. Forget Man vs. Machine or Man vs. Man. The toughest battle out there is Man vs. a GOAT.
Career Slammer. 9-time Major Champ. Olympic Gold Medalist. Frequent Davis Cup Hero. With all this achieved by age 24, Rafael Nadal has entered the realm of the GOATS, a craggy, sparsely inhabited peak, where the brays of John McEnroe fade fast in the rarefied air. I picture Rafa in a parka, pausing to wring sweat from his headband and taking a furtive peek at the summit of Mount What’s Next?
Rafa took a deep breath during his post match presser:
“You know, I still 24. I have, I know, for me, it’s a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more dream have the US Open. Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”
But now that Rafa’s in this special place, everyone at base camp wants his report: has he crossed paths with a certain Swiss alpinist up there?
Q. What do you think you have to accomplish to convince yourself that you’re ahead of Roger, maybe the greatest ever?
RAFAEL NADAL: 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. But, sure, for me, always, always Roger was an example, especially because he improved his tennis I think during all his career, and that’s a good thing that you can copy, no? So I try to copy this, and I know Roger and me are different, much different styles. Being better than Roger I don’t think so is the right moment to talk about that, because I am I don’t think that.
Rafa may look boyish, but he’s wise. Why muck up his accomplishments with comparisons? “Great champion, great person, and great example of an athlete.” Novak said of his opponent after the match. A champion who’s repeatedly displayed his own unique gifts and written his own chapters in the tennis history books. So let’s leave the measuring sticks in the drawer for now – or go find Nole, and see if he really did stretch out a little – and let Rafa enjoy his own special place in the sun (or rain or wind or thunderstorms.)