Djokovic opened up with far more heat on his groundstrokes than he did in his semi-final with Stanislas Wawrinka and his quarter-final with Mikhail Youzhny. But it was Nadal, cheered on by Spain’s Queen Sofia, who claimed the first break of the set. The left-hander clipped three forehand winners – including a midcourt off-forehand into an open court – on his second break point of the third game to take an early lead.
Nadal broke open the set in the sixth and seventh games when he won eight consecutive points to hold to love and then break to love for a 5-2 lead. He then closed out the set in the next game, having not faced a break point in the set. Nadal won 80 percent of first serve points in the set, compared to Djokovic’s 50 percent.
Many celebrities are on hand watching the final, including Queen Sofia, Princess Beatrice, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Sir Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Ed Norton, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham, Kevin Spacey, Martha Stewart and Anna Wintour.
Nadal had been winning the majority of longer rallies but Djokovic turned the tables in the sixth game. After what at the time represented an extended rally, Djokovic snuck into the net at 30/30 and executed a perfect drop volley to set up a break point. On the following point the Serb brought the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd to its feet after digging in to win a 54-shot rally against Nadal, during which the players ran for a combined 900 feet, to hand Nadal just his second serve break of the tournament.
But his momentum was short lived. Nadal raced to a 0/40 lead in the next game and eventually broke back for 3-4. However, Djokovic dug deep to grind out a second consecutive break after another exhausting 11-minute game to put himself in a position to serve for the set. He then converted his first set point with a crushing down-the-line backhand winner to level the match after 1 hr., 40 mins.
Djokovic maintained the pressure to open the third set, ripping a return winner for a 0/30 lead and forcing consecutive errors from the Spaniard to break at love. It would be the Serb’s third consecutive break of serve. Nadal would press for an immediate break back in the second game of the set, forcing it to deuce, but was unable to survive a bruising 29 shot rally, pushing a backhand wide. Djokovic would send an ace down the T to hold, winning his fifth straight game.
Nadal settled in as the set wore on, opening the court with his kicking forehand and finding sensational angles with laser-like precision. He rediscovered the recipe to his success in the opening set, frustrating Djokovic with great depth on his returns and breaking back to level at 3-3 after the Serb misfired from the baseline on three consecutive points.
The seesaw set would continue in the ninth game when Djokovic raced out to a 0/40 lead, but was unable to capitalise on any of his three break opportunities. Nadal carried the momentum into the very next game, breaking for the set when a Djokovic defensive backhand sailed long.
Despite striking a whopping 17 winners in the set, Djokovic’s unforced error count rose to 42 for the match. Nadal would save four of five break points and was very efficient in the return game, sending back 88 per cent of the Serb’s serves.
Nadal staved off a pair of break points to open the set and would sprint to a 0/40 advantage in the second game, eventually snatching the break after one of his patented curling forehands hooked inside the sideline.
He would stretch the lead to 3-0 and never looked back from there, clinching the title on his first match point when a Djokovic backhand clipped the tape.
In total, Nadal struck 27 winners and took advantage of 53 unforced errors by Djokovic. The Spaniard dominated the extended rallies of five shots or more, winning 64 of 111 such points. The World No. 2 was lethal in the return game as well, converting on 7 of 12 break point chances.
This was the 12th US Open final in the Open Era with the top two seeds meeting; the No. 2 seed won six of the previous 11 meetings entering the match. Two years ago, No. 1 Djokovic beat No. 2 Nadal in the final.
It was their 37th meeting; the most in the Open Era. Nadal has now won three of their four battles in 2013, including a third-set tie-break in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month.
Nadal leads their overall FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 22-15 overall, winning eight of 11 meetings in the majors. Djokovic leads 11-7 on hard courts.
This was their third US Open final meeting: 2010 (Nadal in four sets) and 2011 (Djokovic in four sets).