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Rafael Nadal: Rockin' My Peers And Puttin' Suckas In Fear

Illustration for article titled Rafael Nadal: Rockin' My Peers And Puttin' Suckas In Fear

Over at SB Nation Longform, Elizabeth Kaye has a terrific wrap-up of the U.S. Open:

In a sense the 2013 US Open final began at the end of the 2012 Australian Open, the last Slam final Nadal and Djokovic played. Djokovic won it in a 5 hour, 53-minute feral encounter that was the longest Grand Slam final ever and a clash so comprehensive and grueling that during the trophy presentation they could no longer stand and had to be supplied with chairs and bottles of water.

After that loss, the men in Nadal's camp worried about his state of mind. The match had been his seventh straight loss to Djokovic in finals since the start of 2011, and his third straight loss to him in Slam finals. Anyone who had watched Nadal over the years could see that this unprecedented string of defeats to a single player had robbed him of a measure of his leonine fight and belief. In May 2011, after Djokovic had done what no one had ever done by beating him in successive matches on clay, Nadal had gone into the French Open, where he was the five-time champion, shaken and downcast and saying tersely that he wasn't "obligated" to win the tournament, though in fact he did win it, two weeks later.

But after the loss in Melbourne, Nadal was unexpectedly upbeat. The match, he said, had shown him how to beat Djokovic, and while that seemed unduly hopeful at the time, since then he'd gone 5-1 against him, 4-1 in finals, and 1-0 in Slams. Perhaps the main understanding he'd gained was that while he had forced his other opponents to make adjustments to his type of play, Djokovic had developed into the one player who required Nadal not simply to do things better - as he always sought to do - but to adjust, and do things differently, an intriguing challenge for a player who loved the day-in, day-out process of tennis and thrived on finding answers to adversity.

Their rivalry was unlike that of Nadal and Federer, which is underpinned, once a given match ends, by a comradeship and civility most poignantly expressed when Nadal put a comforting arm around the weeping Federer after defeating him in 2009 at the Australian Open. But that genuine warmth did not factor into his relationship with Djokovic, who had always seemed to resent and envy Nadal's success, his charisma, his popularity. As for Nadal, as much as he had detested getting beaten seven times running, what he may have liked even less was Djokovic's behavior in victory: the celebratory chest beating, banshee screams and strutting shirtless around the court while Nadal sat nearby slumped and disconsolate.

[Photo Credit: Barton Silverman/the New York Times]

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