AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It took nearly five exhausting hours, but Rafael Nadal pulled off his fourth U.S. Open title last night in New York. He outlasted Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in five sets for his 19th Grand Slam title. Joining me on Skype now to talk about last night’s entertaining end to an entertaining tournament is Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. Hey there.
JON WERTHEIM: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: OK, so Nadal’s latest Grand Slam title puts him – what? – just one behind his rival Roger Federer for most Grand Slam titles ever. But just looking at last night, how great of a feat was it for him to go five sets against a player 10 years younger than him?
WERTHEIM: This was a tremendous feat, especially given the rhythms of this match, where Nadal won the first two sets. It looked like he was cruising and we would all make it to our dinner appointments, and then all of a sudden, this Russian, who – you’re right – was 10 year Nadal’s junior, was absolutely persistent and didn’t miss. And suddenly, here we are in a fifth set, and the crowd is engaged. And what Nadal had to do and what he had to overcome to end up winning this match made this sort of an unexpectedly complicated day at the office but, I think, really one of his great career triumphs.
CHANG: But maybe one of the most exciting things that happened last night was the guy on the other side of that match, the rise of Medvedev, right? He started out as this guy that everyone hated during this tournament for being rude and obnoxious. Like, he flipped off an official. People were booing him. But then last night, he played phenomenal tennis. Can you just tell us how he turned things around?
WERTHEIM: It was one of the great comebacks but also one of the great character comebacks. You’re right. Everyone sort of expected to come and witness a public execution and good would triumph over evil and Nadal would beat this guy. And by the end, Medvedev had the crowd behind him. He got a standing ovation when it was over. And the other thing – this is really an emergence of a young, talented, ascending player. I mean, he had a terrific summer. He came to the U.S. Open. He won six matches. This guy who, 10 days ago, was the great pro-wrestling heel, the villain of the tournament, was really given a warm sendoff. It was quite an image recovery.
CHANG: All right, so now let’s go to the women’s side. There was another emerging star, Bianca Andreescu. She became Canada’s first Grand Slam title winner ever. How surprised should people be that she beat Serena Williams in straight sets?
WERTHEIM: I think to some extent, we take our cue from the player, and she, from the start of the tournament, basically said, I’m here to win. This time last year, she wasn’t anywhere close to the tennis radar. She was outside the top 100, and she’s had a terrific 2019. And here she comes, 19 years old with a very well-developed game, and stared down the mighty Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. And we have a new start in women’s tennis.
CHANG: OK, so now that the 2019 season is over, what are you most looking forward to in 2020?
WERTHEIM: A lot. I mean, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic – the big three, we call them – they have won the last 12 majors. Nobody has sort of cracked this glass ceiling. Is 2020 the year it finally happens? And then between the emergence of young stars and this sort of big question of whether Serena Williams can finally complete this question and win her 24th major, we have 19-year-olds that are thrilling us, and we also will have a 38-year-old Serena Williams bidding for history. So, you know, overall, I would say tennis emerges from this 2019 U.S. Open in a very nice place.
CHANG: That’s Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. Thanks so much for joining us today.
WERTHEIM: Anytime. Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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