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Despite willy Nili penalties, Nadal’s class shone through at US Open

As Rafael Nadal inches within one Grand Slam victory of Roger Federer’s Open Era record, when it comes to class, he is more than on par with the Swiss legend.

‘Like a lion in the jungle’ and ‘the greatest fighter ever in the sport’ were just some of the superlatives being heaped upon Rafael Nadal by his contemporaries after Sunday’s US Open finale. After all, the lanky Spaniard had just triumphed after a tense back-n-forth battle with 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev that was made even spicier by umpire Ali Nili sprinkling three nasty peppercorns in the form of time violations for Nadal for taking too long to serve.

First, he was penalised in his opening service game itself. Even though rules are rules, onlookers were shocked to see such strict officiating so early in the game.

He was penalised again in the fourth set, costing him a serve, and finally, another penalty that came during a nerve-wracking fifth set ended up being a double fault and robbed him of a whole point.


There were boos heard from all around the Arthur Ashe grandstands in reaction. It looked like for the second year in a row, an US Open final would descend into disgraceful spectator-fueled chaos. However, that’s where the difference in attitude between Nadal and Serena Williams shone bright. There was none of the acrimony that we had seen between Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos in 2018. Instead, after getting up on the podium, Nadal clapped for Nili, which calmed down the anger brewing in the stands and wiped away any last traces of bad blood.

Certainly, the euphoria of clinching his fourth US Open title had to have eased his mind enough to let bygones be bygones. But his gracefulness didn’t just stop there. One of the first things he stressed upon when being interviewed after the match was the rising prowess of young Medvedev, “His summer is one of the best summers I’ve ever seen since I’ve been playing. Tonight, everybody saw why he is the number four player in the world at just 23 years old.”


Nadal is now just one shy of Roger Federer’s tally of 20 Majors, and with another win at Flushing Meadows, he would match the Open Era record of five US Open titles, alongside Federer, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras.

But even after coming so close, if he doesn’t touch the ceiling built by Federer, he will certainly share the same heights of class and dignity as his Swiss compatriot. And as Margaret Court has unfortunately shown, class always carries more weight than achievements.

Will Nadal win one more Grand Slam to equal Federer's 20?

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