NEW YORK: Hitting harder and moving more explosively than ever, Rafa Nadal raised the bar of men’s tennis another notch during his defeat of Novak Djokovic in the US Open final.
In the short term, it now looks just a matter of time before the Mallorcan powerhouse returnsto the top of the world rankings; more significantly, Roger Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles is no longer a speck on the horizon.
Nadal’s 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Djokovic at Flushing Meadow took the 27-year-old’s major haul to 13 and the nature of it suggested he is again set to take a stranglehold at the top of the men’s game.
Djokovic threw everything at Nadal during the latest enthralling chapter in their rivalry and for a while during the third set he looked to have gained the upper hand only for Nadal to steam past him and claim a second US crown.
Who would have thought it at the start of the year?
When Lukas Rosol sent Nadal’s tennis world spinning off its axis at Wimbledon in June last year, it seemed the wear and tear on the Spaniard’s knees had finally caught up with him and he did not hit a ball in anger for seven months.
Yet since re-emerging at a low-key claycourt tournament in Chile in February, the Spaniard has been virtually unstoppable, winning 10 titles, including an eighth French Open, and proving that his knees can withstand the pounding of hardcourt tennis.
When he returned from his injury lay-off it seemed reasonable to assume his main focus would be the French Open.
Yet Nadal, who once used to look slightly less menacing on faster hardcourts, has added spice to his serve and extra speed to his forehand to turn himself into the concrete king with Masters titles in Indian Wells, Montreal and Cincinnati before his rampage in New York.
Worryingly for his rivals, Nadal’s fabled defensive skills have been embellished with more firepower.
His forehand has lost a little of the loopy topspin that used to wear down opponents and a slightly flatter, more net-hugging adaptation has been in evidence which enables him to attack much earlier in rallies.
The left-handed serve has been a revelation too.
Nadal held 88 consecutive service games at the US Open before the semifinal in which Frenchman Richard Gasquet managed one break of a delivery that, while not as fast as some, is deadly accurate and heavy with spin.
Djokovic did break it three times but an irresistible Nadal always had an answer as he roared to victory.