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US Open Final - Set By Set

New York, U.S.A.

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We take a set-by-set look at the US Open final.

Set 1

In the first point of the match Djokovic won an extended rally after chasing down a drop shot, but he appeared to slightly jar his ankle. Nadal then won the next four points, clinching the break with a down-the-line backhand pass. Djokovic briefly clutched his left ankle at his chair during the changeover. Djokovic was in danger of falling behind a double break and 0-3 after finding himself at 0/30 in his second service game, but responded with consecutive aces as part of a four-point streak to hold serve.

Djokovic, who was willing to hang with Nadal from the back of the court and engage in lengthy baseline rallies, seized his first break point opportunity at 30/40 to level the match at 2-2 when Nadal hit a down-the-line forehand wide. It was just the third time in 93 games during the tournament that Nadal had been broken. But the Spaniard did not allow Djokovic to enjoy the break back for even one point. He raced to a 0/40 lead, although it wasn’t until Nadal had his 6th break point that he put the eight-minute game away. Djokovic, who had already whacked the sole of his sneakers earlier in the game, destroyed his racquet with two angry swipes at the court after Nadal rifled a down-the-line forehand to seal the break.

Nadal then put the squeeze on Djokovic, dropping just two more points on serve in the remainder of the set, which he closed out 6-4. Coming into the match, Nadal had a 106-1 win-loss record at Grand slam play after winning the first set.

Set 2

After holding serve Djokovic rallied from 0/40 (with help from a great drop shot) to deuce, but then failed to put his next two returns into play as Nadal leveled for 1-1. But two games later – seemingly out of nowhere – Nadal played a very loose game, which included a wild forehand error and a double fault – to drop serve to love. Emboldened by a 3-1 lead, Djokovic became even more aggressive and held to love for 4-1 after winning his 10th consecutive point. In a rare site, Nadal looked rattled, missing a first serve that almost hit the baseline and then hit a forehand well long. Nadal got back on track with two winning points and held for 4-2.

In the following game Djokovic looked set to establish a 5-2 lead when he led 40/15, but Nadal rallied to deuce and earned two break points. After failing to convert his second chance, Nadal uncharacteristically motioned to punch his strings with his fist after floating several lackluster slice backhands and then netted a topspin forehand. But on his third break point Nadal surprised Djokovic by rocketing a flatter backhand down the line, which resulted in a forced error and a break for the Spaniard. Nadal held for 4-all. With the ninth game locked at 30/30, rain forced players from the court.

Play resumed at 8pm after a 1: 57 rain delay and an aggressive Djokovic held serve after being taken to deuce with his second forehand winner after the break. The set continued on serve until Nadal offered up his first set point at 5-6 30/40. Nadal, who had not dropped a set all tournament, served hard to the forehand of Djokovic, who blocked the return back very deep down the middle of the court. Stepping backward and away to his right, Nadal hit a near half-volley forehand into the net. Djokovic is now 3 for 3 on break point chances to Nadal’s 3 for 10.

Djokovic played some outstanding tennis, finishing the set with 17 winners to just seven unforced errors.

Set 3

Early in the third set Nadal set up a break for 2-1 with his signature crosscourt backhand pass from deep behind the baseline in the deuce court. Hitting off the back leg and using his right wrist to rocket his passing shot past an incoming Djokovic, Nadal went up 0/40 and effected the break three points later when the 2007 US Open finalist sprayed a forehand wide to the deuce court. Nadal held to love for 3-1 but then missed the chance to put the set away when he had three chances for a double break on Djokovic’s next service game.

Djokovic continued to play with fire, offering five further break point chances before holding for 4-3. Nadal, who at that point had converted just five of 21 break chances for the match (and one of 11 in the set) could be forgiven for wondering if that conversion rate would come back to haunt him. In contrast to the fatiguing battle Djokovic faced to hold serve, Nadal had not dropped a point in his preceding three service games as he continued to pummel the third seed with his vicious forehand. Djokovic was forced to play defence more often than Nadal, and by the end of the third set the physical toll started to show. Serving for the set, Nadal found himself at 15/30 but responded with three huge first serves to take the set 6-4. In the third set Nadal won 16 of 17 points on his first serve.

Set 4

Djokovic came from two sets to one down to beat Federer in the semi-finals, but could he do it against Nadal? He’d won his past three matches against the World No. 1 (all on hard court in 2009) but he had never beaten Nadal in Grand Slam play.

Djokovic was under pressure immediately, saving a break point in the first game of the fourth set. He then went down 15/40 in his next service game and, after saving the first, was broken to fall behind 1-2. After playing from behind virtually the entire match, it looked unlikely that Djokovic would have the energy to mount another challenge to Nadal, who was playing perhaps his best tennis of the tournament and serving huge. To emphasise the point, Nadal held to love in the following game with his eighth ace down the T.

When Nadal earned three more break points and broke Djokovic for the second time to take a commanding 4-1 lead, the match was effectively over. As the set evolved Nadal’s play approached perfection. His first unforced error of the set didn’t come until the seventh game. Serving for the match, Nadal brought Uncle Toni to his feet when he chased down a drop shot and hit a winning volley to go ahead 30/0. He went up match point after chasing down another drop shot and hit a looping forehand that caught the back of the baseline, bringing Djokovic to his knees and a wry smile to the Serb’s face. On his first match point Nadal fell to the ground in ecstasy after Djokovic pushed wide a forehand. New York fans roared their approval and Uncle Toni smiled a wide smile as Nadal and Djokovic embraced at the net.

Nadal wins 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to write himself into the history books yet again.

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