It did not always happen that way against Djokovic, however. They started in sunlight and finished at night, a three hour, 21-minute mini-series of cliffhangers and plot twists with a pair of protagonists who inspired standing ovations in the middle of games.
“It’s what we do when we play against each other, always pushing each other to the limit,” Djokovic said.
This was their 37th match, the most between any two men in the Open era, and Nadal has won 22. It also was their third head-to-head US Open final in the last four years. Nadal beat Djokovic for the 2010 title, and Djokovic won their 2011 rematch.
What might have been most impressive about Nadal this time was the way he stayed steady when Djokovic recovered from a rough start and began asserting himself.
Nadal was broken once through his first six matches in the tournament — a string that reached 88 games by early in the final’s second set.
However, with Djokovic gaining control of more of the many extended exchanges, he broke Nadal three times in a row.
The final momentum shift back to Nadal came when he served at 4-all in the third set. Djokovic earned three break points, thanks in part to a tremendous lob-volley and another point when Nadal slipped and tumbled to his backside.
A quick forehand winner by Nadal, a forehand into the net by Djokovic on a 22-stroke point, and a 202kph ace — Nadal’s only one of the evening, it drew shouts of “Vamos!” from Uncle Toni — helped avoid another break.
In the very next game, Nadal broke Djokovic’s serve and, apparently, his will. When that set ended with Djokovic pushing a forehand long on a 19-shot point, Nadal screamed as he knelt down at the baseline, his racket on the court and his left fist pumping over and over and over.
“Thirteen,” Nadal said later of his Grand Slams, “is an amazing number.”