Novak Djokovic strengthened his place atop men’s tennis with a four-set, four-hour win against Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final, becoming the sixth man to win three Grand Slam championships in a single year.
Djokovic, a 24-year-old Serb and the top seed, improved his season record to 64-2 with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1 victory over Nadal, the second seed from Spain, at the National Tennis Center in New York. It was a rematch of the 2010 U.S. Open final won by Nadal.
Djokovic also beat Nadal, 25, in the Wimbledon final in July and won the Australian Open in January. The only one of tennis’ four major tournaments he failed to capture this year was the French Open, where he lost to Roger Federer in the semifinals.
“I think I played a great match from the start to the end,” Djokovic said in a news conference. “When you play that well, you must enjoy, you must bring a smile on your face, because it’s all going on your side.”
Djokovic needed a medical timeout early in the fourth set, calling a trainer onto the court to work on his back. He returned from the break to win five of the last six games in the match.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I’ve had an amazing year and it keeps going.”
The 4-hour, 10-minute contest featured long points, including a 31-shot rally in the third set. The third game of the second set lasted 22 points and 176 shots, with eight deuces. There were 30 rallies that lasted at least 15 strokes in the match.
Nadal had his serve broken 11 times in 18 games in the final after losing serve 13 times in his six previous matches in the tournament.
“I’m disappointed, but you know what, this guy is doing unbelievable things,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “What you did this year is probably impossible to repeat.”
Nadal, ranked No. 2 behind Djokovic on the ATP World Tour, has lost all six of his matches this year against the Serb and said he has to focus on how to break that streak.
“Six straight losses, for sure that’s painful,” Nadal said in a news conference. “But I am going to work every day until that changes. I have an easy goal right now.”
Djokovic won $1.8 million for the championship, while Nadal got $900,000.
Only five other men have won three majors in a year since the Open era began in 1968. Nadal did it last year to join Federer of Switzerland, Mats Wilander of Sweden, Jimmy Connors of the U.S. and Rod Laver of Australia, who swept all four Grand Slam titles in 1969.
Djokovic reached the final by recovering from a two-set deficit and two match points to beat Federer, a five-time champion who was seeded No. 3.
Djokovic hasn’t been able to turn his success on court into a flood of endorsements. He has four sponsors listed on his website: Austrian racket manufacturer Head NV, Italian clothing brand Sergio Tacchini International, Serbian telecommunications company Telekom Srbija and German nutritional supplement brand FitLine.
Federer is still the sport’s top money maker with 10 deals, even without a major triumph since a men’s record-extending 16th Grand Slam championship at the 2010 Australian Open. The 30-year-old from Switzerland makes $47 million a year from prize money and endorsements from companies such as Nike Inc., Swiss bank Credit Suisse Group AG and Swiss luxury watch brand Rolex, according to an estimate by Forbes magazine in May.
Nadal makes $31.5 million annually from matches and sponsors. He’s got nine deals, including Nike, Giorgio Armani SpA and Spain’s largest insurer, Mapfre SA.
Djokovic has doubled his income to more than $20 million, including $10.1 million in tennis winnings this season. He’s needed more Grand Slam victories to break into bigger deals, according to Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brandRapport.
“Djokovic has come along at a time where Federer and Nadal have got the big deals,” Currie said in an interview before the U.S. Open started last month. “This season, he’s emerged from their shadows and it takes time to get past them and for the world to realize this guy is the genuine article.”
Djokovic, who became the world’s top-ranked player following his Wimbledon win, began a run of 43 straight victories when he led Serbia to its first Davis Cup title in December. The streak ended at the French Open, leaving him one win shy of tying the record of 41 wins to start a season, set by John McEnroe in 1984.
His other defeat this year came against Britain’s Andy Murray last month in Cincinnati, when Djokovic quit the match because of a shoulder injury at 6-4, 3-0. He said during the U.S. Open that the injury hadn’t affected his play in New York.
Djokovic became the first player to win five ATP World Tour Masters titles in one season, when he won the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month.
Nadal was trying for his 11th Grand Slam singles title, which would have tied him with Laver and Bjorn Borg for fourth on the men’s career list. Federer has 16, followed by Sampras (14) and Roy Emerson (12).
Australia’s Samantha Stosur won the women’s championship yesterday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory against Serena Williams of the U.S.
The finals were delayed one day after rain wiped out almost two full days of competition last week and the tournament was extended to a third week for the fourth straight year.