Rafael Nadal holds the trophy after his victory over Daniil Medvedev (unseen) in the final of the US Open in New York on Sunday. Agence France-Presse
An emotional Rafael Nadal says extending the years among the top players in tennis means more to him than overtaking Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record or chasing after the world number one ranking.
The 33-year-old Spanish left-hander grabbed his 19th Grand Slam title and fourth US Open crown in thrilling fashion Sunday, outlasting Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 after four hours and 50 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Just very happy. This trophy means everything to me today,” said Nadal, who was moved to tears by a video tribute after the match.
“The last three hours of the match have been very intense, very tough mentally and physically, too. With the video, the crowd that have been as always amazing, all these facts make the moment super special. Unforgettable moment.”
The dramatic victory pulled him within one Slam title of matching Federer’s all-time men’s record with top-ranked Novak Djokovic a close third on 16.
But second-ranked Nadal stressed he’s more concerned with extending his career as long and as well as possible than he is setting a major win record.
“I would love to be the one who wins more, but I am not thinking and I’m not going to practice every day or playing tennis for it,” Nadal said.
“I’m playing tennis because I love to play tennis. I can’t just think about Grand Slams. Tennis is more than Grand Slams.
“I need to think about the rest of the things. I play to be happy. Of course, the victory makes me super happy.”
Personal satisfaction such as what Nadal derived from holding off stubborn Medvedev in his epic fightback drives Nadal far more than comparing Slam trophy cases.
“That competition, if that attracts fans and create interest on the people, that’s good for our sport, no? I feel honored to be part of this battle,” Nadal said. “But I repeat the same: you can’t be all day looking next to you about if one having more or one having little bit less because you will be frustrated.
“All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream. I would love to be the one who has more, yes. But I really believe that I will not be happier or less happy if that happens or not happen.
“What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you gave your best. In that way I am very, very calm, very pleased with myself.”
Overtaking Djokovic for a year-end world number one ranking isn’t high on Nadal’s list of goals, saying it could detract from longevity and quality.
“I don’t compete for it. I just do my way. If I am able to be number one doing my way, great. But I always say the same: today it’s not my main goal,” Nadal said.
“It’s great to be in that fight. But for me personally, is not really a fight. I just try be competitive the weeks I want to compete.
“With my age and with my goals, I cannot lose energy or time to follow the number one. I need to think about my career in a different way. For me, my main goal is play as long as possible and being competitive.
“Sometimes if you need to follow the number one, you going to lose years of your career. But I am there. If I am able to play well until the end of the season, I going to have my chances. That’s going to be amazing.”
Meanwhile, Medvedev said the energy of the New York crowd helped instigate his stunning fightback that saw him fall just short against Nadal.
“First of all I just want to congratulate Rafa, 19th Grand Slam title is something unbelievable, outrageous,” Medvedev said.
“What you’ve done for tennis in general, it’s amazing for our sport. Thank you and congrats again.”
Medvedev has experienced a love-hate relationship with fans at Flushing Meadows after an obscene gesture in a third-round match prompted loud boos, to which the Russian later responded with a taunt of his own.
But the 23-year-old won the crowd over during his run to the final, where he was attempting to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Juan Martin del Potro won the US Open in 2009.