Rafael Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final was the record 37th installment of the top rivalry in tennis right now — and what is on its way to becoming the greatest in the sport’s long history.
So it was fascinating to hear Nadal reveal the deflating thought that crossed his mind before he faced Djokovic for the title at Flushing Meadows two years ago.
“I was in the locker room,” Nadal recalled, “and I was not convinced that I will have the chance to win.”
Turned out he was right to be pessimistic about that evening’s eventual outcome. At the time, Nadal was in the midst of losing seven consecutive meetings — along with the No. 1 ranking — to Djokovic. All of those matches came in finals, three at Grand Slam tournaments: Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011, and at the Australian Open in 2012.
Clearly, Djokovic held a strong mental and tactical edge back then.
Look where things stand between them now.
Nadal’s 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win Monday night, earning a second U.S. Open title and 13th major championship in all, made him 6-1 against Djokovic in their last seven encounters. It also raised Nadal’s lead in the head-to-head series to 22-15 and made him 8-3 in their matchups at Grand Slam tournaments.
So what changed?
According to Nadal, a lot has to do with that four-set loss to Djokovic in New York in 2011. After dropping the first two sets, Nadal won the third in a tiebreaker.
“A very important moment for me,” Nadal explained. “I was able to change that situation, to fight more than (I had) in the previous matches against him, and (see) a way for me to play. ... Run for every point. Fight, fight for every ball. And play aggressive. And that’s what I did in the third set.”