Emotional Nadal claims 13th Major
An emotional Rafael Nadal savoured one of the most special grand slam titles of his career after defeating Novak Djokovic to win the US Open.
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Twelve months ago Nadal watched Andy Murray beat Djokovic on TV at home in Majorca as he faced up to yet another lengthy absence with knee problems.
When he returned to the tour in February, the Spaniard was unsure whether his body would allow him to play at the same level again.
But seven months later, Nadal can reflect on the most dominant period of his career after two grand slam trophies, eight ATP Tour titles and only three losses.
Djokovic remains world number one for now but it is just a matter of time before Nadal overtakes him, and there is no doubt the 27-year-old is the best player in the world.
He proved that in a US Open final that reached heights to match any of their epic encounters in the second and third sets before Djokovic faded to go down 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 after three hours and 21 minutes.
After shaking hands with his vanquished opponent, Nadal lay flat on his front sobbing into the court before celebrating with his team.
The Spaniard said: "For a few reasons, this season is probably the most emotional one in my career. I felt that I did everything right to have my chance here.
"You play a match against one of the best players in history like Novak on probably his favourite surface, so I knew I had to be almost perfect to win.
"It means a lot for me have this trophy with me today. It's just amazing. I'm very, very happy, and I just say thank you very much to everybody who helped me to make that possible. It's a really special moment for me."
That Nadal could win the French Open for an eighth time after his injury problems was no surprise but it is his dominance on hard courts that has been the real revelation.
The Spaniard has always found the surface hardest on his body but his victory over Djokovic made it 22 matches unbeaten this season on hard and four titles.
Nadal now has 13 grand slam titles - one adrift of Pete Sampras and four behind Roger Federer - after winning for a second time in New York.
He said: "I never thought something like this could happen. I was so excited to be back on tour trying to be competitive.
"I never thought about competing for all that I competed for this year. All the Masters 1000s, two grand slams. It' s just more than a dream for me, and I'm very happy for everything.
"I feel very lucky about what's happened since I came back."
No two men in the Open era have met more than Nadal and Djokovic, and there were high hopes their 37th clash could be one of their best.
Nadal was a level above Djokovic in the first set but the momentum swung in the second as the Serbian broke for 4-2 after an astonishing 54-shot rally that drew a standing ovation.
The second seed hit straight back but now Djokovic was the more attacking player and he broke again for 5-3 before levelling the match.
Nadal had only dropped serve once in the whole tournament before the final but Djokovic managed a third in a row at the start of the third set.
The top seed appeared to have Nadal where he wanted him but his level dropped again to be broken back for 3-3.
The key moments of the match came at the end of that set. First Djokovic had Nadal at 0-40 in the ninth game but was unable to break, and when the Spaniard created a set point in the next game he took it with a bullet forehand down the line.
Nadal pumped his fist in celebration, and Djokovic was unable to sustain his level in a rather disappointing fourth set.
"It was a really important set," Nadal said of the third. "I started so slow the first game, but the end of the second, beginning of the third, Novak was playing just amazing.
"When Novak plays that level, I am not sure if anybody can stop him. I knew that it was really important I stayed only one break behind. If I lost the second break, then the set was over.
"So I tried to be there, I kept fighting for every ball, and I tried to wait for my moment."
Djokovic blamed himself for letting Nadal back in, saying: "It's all my fault.
"I made some unforced errors in the crucial moments with forehands and dropped the serve twice when I should not have. The next thing you know, it's two sets to one for him.
"Then he started playing much, much better, and I obviously could not recover after that loss.
"I have to be satisfied with the final, even though I would have loved to win this match.
"But it was obvious that in the important moments he played better tennis, and that's why he deserved to win. I congratulate him, and I move on."
Rafael Nadal factfile:
1986: Born June 3, Mallorca, Spain.
2001: Turns professional.
2002: Wins first match on the ATP circuit in Mallorca, becoming the ninth player in the Open era to win an ATP match before his 16th birthday.
2004: Wins first ATP title, in Sopot, Poland.
December - Beats Andy Roddick in four sets to help Spain beat the United States in Davis Cup final.
2005: June - Becomes first man since Mats Wilander in 1982 to win the French Open title on debut with a four-set win over Argentinian Mariano Puerta.
2006: March - Beats world number one Roger Federer to win the ATP event in Dubai, ending Federer's run of 56 consecutive hard-court wins.
June - Beats Swede Robin Soderling in first round at French Open for his 54th consecutive claycourt win, setting a professional era record in the men's game.
Defends title with victory over Federer, his 59th straight win on clay.
2006: July - Loses Wimbledon final in four sets to Federer.
2007: May 7 - Wins 76th straight match on clay to set a new record for consecutive victories on any single surface.
May 20 - Winning streak on clay ends at 81 matches with defeat in the final of the Hamburg Masters to Federer.
June 10 - Wins third straight French Open, beating Federer in the final for the second successive year.
July 8 - Loses Wimbledon final to Federer after five-set epic.
2008: January 24 - Reaches Australian Open semi-finals for first time but is beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
June 8 - Thrashes Federer 6-1 6-3 6-0 to win his fourth successive French Open title, equalling the feat of Bjorn Borg. Becomes only the fifth player to win a grand slam without dropping a set.
July 6 - Claims his first Wimbledon title with a 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5/7) 6-7 (8/10) 9-7 victory over top seed Federer, becoming the first man since Borg in 1980 to hold the Wimbledon and French Open titles simultaneously.
August 17 - Wins Olympic gold in Beijing with straight-sets defeat of Fernando Gonzalez.
September 9 - Loses in the semi-finals of the US Open to Andy Murray.
2009: February 1 - Wins first Australian Open title after epic five-set victory over Federer in Melbourne.
May 31 - Loses his first match at the French Open, beaten by Soderling in the fourth round.
September 13 - Thrashed 6-2 6-2 6-2 by Juan Martin Del Potro in US Open semi-final.
December 4-6 - Helps Spain win Davis Cup, beating Czech Republic 5-0.
2010: June 6 - Regains the French Open title, beating Soderling 6-4 6-2 6-4 in the final.
July 4 - Follows up a semi-final win over Murray by beating Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 6-4 in the Wimbledon final.
September 14 - Becomes only the seventh man to complete the career Grand Slam with a 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2 victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows.
2011: June 5 - Successfully defends his French Open title, beating Federer 7-5 7-6 (7/3) 5-7 6-1 to equal the six Roland Garros trophies won by Borg.
July 3 - Loses his Wimbledon title 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 to Djokovic, who also takes the number one ranking.
September 12 - The same story for Nadal as Djokovic wins 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1 in the final of the US Open.
December 4 - Beats Argentina's Juan Monaco and Del Potro to help Spain win their third Davis Cup crown in four years.
2012: January 29 - Djokovic wins a third straight grand slam final against Nadal, beating him 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes at the Australian Open, the longest grand slam final in history.
April 22 - Ends a seven-match losing streak against Djokovic in Monte Carlo, in turn winning his eighth consecutive title in the Principality.
June 11 - Becomes the first man to win seven French Open titles beating Djokovic 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5 in a rain-delayed final.
June 28 - Suffers a shock defeat by world number 100 Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon, his earliest grand slam defeat in seven years.
July - Pulls out of the London Olympics, where he had been due to carry Spain's flag at the Opening Ceremony, with knee problems. He does not play again for seven months.
February 6 - Plays his first match back at a tournament in Chile. He reaches the final but loses to Horacio Zeballos.
March - After winning titles on clay in Sao Paulo and Acapulco, Nadal beats Del Potro in the final in Indian Wells to win his first title not on clay since 2010.
April - Fails to win a ninth straight title in Monte Carlo as he loses to Djokovic in the final. Goes on to win titles in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.
June 9 - Becomes the first man to win eight singles titles at a single grand slam with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 victory over David Ferrer in the French Open final.
September 9 - Beats Djokovic in four sets to claim second US Open title.