Rafael Nadal’s 19th Grand Slam trophy went from inevitable to suddenly in doubt in a thrill-a-minute U.S. Open final.
What had all the makings of a crowning morphed into a grueling contest thanks to Nadal’s opponent, Daniil Medvedev, a man a decade younger and appearing in his first major title match. Down by two sets and a break, Medvedev shifted styles, upped his level against a rattled Nadal — and even received an unexpected boost from the Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators.
Truly tested for the only time in the tournament, the No. 2-seeded Nadal managed to stop Medvedev’s surge Sunday and hold off his historic comeback bid, pulling out a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory in 4 hours, 50 minutes of highlight-worthy action and Broadway-worthy drama to collect his fourth championship at Flushing Meadows.
“An amazing final. Seems that I had, more or less, the match under control,” said Nadal, who covered his face with his hands while crying when arena video boards showed clips from each of his Slam triumphs. “One of the most emotional nights of my tennis career.”
WATCH | Nadal captures his 19th Grand Slam title:
Now at 19 majors — a total Medvedev called “outrageous” — Nadal is merely one away from rival Roger Federer’s record for a man.
But this one did not come easily. Not at all.
Sure seemed it might, with Nadal ahead by two sets and a break in the third at 3-2, playing like “a beast out there,” as the No. 5-seeded Medvedev put it.
At that moment, Medvedev would joke afterward, this is where his thoughts were: “OK, in 20 minutes I have to give a speech. What do I say?”
But the 23-year-old from Russia did not go gently into the night. He broke right back to 3-all, then again to claim that set and yet again to end the fourth.
“The nerves were so high,” Nadal said. “A crazy match.”
Not since 1949 has anyone won a U.S. Open final after trailing by two sets to none. Never before had Medvedev won a five-set match. Only once before had Nadal lost a Grand Slam match after taking the opening two sets.
And yet the tension was real.
At the very end — or what appeared to be the very end — Nadal couldn’t close it out. After breaking to lead 3-2 in the fifth, in a game Medvedev led 40-love before flubbing an easy forehand, Nadal broke again and served for the championship at 5-2.
The way this back-and-forth tale was spun, though, it probably was inevitable that Medvedev would break there. And so he did, because Nadal double-faulted on break point after he was docked a serve for his third time violation of the evening, which elicited loud boos from folks in the stands.
In the next game, Nadal held a pair of match points, but Medvedev, of course, avoided defeat yet another time, erasing one of those with a backhand winner, the other with a service winner, earning a standing ovation.
With Nadal’s backers screaming, “Close it out!” at the ensuing changeover, he once more stepped to the baseline to try to serve it out, this time at 5-4. Naturally, he was forced to deal with another heart-in-throat break point, but came up with a stinging forehand that drew a long forehand from Medvedev.
Two points later, it was over, and the indefatigable Nadal was splayed on his back on the court.
Add the Spaniard’s haul in New York to his 12 titles at the French Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open, and the 20-19 gap between Federer and Nadal is the closest it’s been in 15 years. Federer led 1-0 after his breakthrough triumph at the All England Club in 2003, and he had four by the time Nadal got his first at Roland Garros in 2005.
Federer, who lost in the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open, is 38, while Nadal is 33 — making him the oldest male champion at Flushing Meadows since 1970. He’s also the first man to win five majors after turning 30.
Nadal says he wants to finish his career at No. 1 in the Grand Slam standings — ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic, looming in third place currently with 16 — but also insists he won’t base his happiness on how it all shakes out in the end.
This particular match ended the way he wanted it to. The journey just took more detours than anyone could have anticipated.
When the 6-foot-6 Medvedev sensed the loss approaching, he turned into a trickier foe, playing less defensively and more aggressively. He alternated serve-and-volley rushes with a penchant for out-hitting Nadal at the baseline. For a stretch, it felt as if Medvedev simply could not miss, and he finished with a 75-62 edge in winners.
That’s the sort of ball-striking Medvedev displayed while going 20-2 during the North American hard-court circuit until Sunday, reaching four finals in a row. But he also switched tactics, winning 22 of 29 serve-and-volley points.
“The way that he was able to fight, to change the rhythm of the match, was just incredible,” Nadal said.
The Flushing Meadows fans that jeered Medvedev in Week 1 because of his on-court behaviour — he trolled his detractors by sarcastically thanking them and telling him their vitriol was why he won — were pulling for him.
Or, as he noted during the trophy ceremony, pulling for more bang for the bucks they spent on tickets.
They certainly got that.
“I’ll definitely remember it,” Medvedev said, “even when I’m, like, 70 years old.”
Sportsnet faces challenges after Don Cherry departure
Sportsnet brass made the call to end Don Cherry’s nearly four-decade run on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner after his rant over the weekend. Their next big decision may be even tougher.
With his bombast, insight, experience and over-the-top delivery, Cherry created an institution with his appearances on the popular Saturday evening segment.
Love him or hate him, he’s hard to replace. Therein lies the challenge for Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley, Rogers Media president Jordan Banks and other company powerbrokers.
Consistently a ratings hit, the first intermission this Saturday night will be appointment viewing.
“It’s going to be very, very interesting to see what they do and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let it slide for a while and put something else in there,” said David Shoalts, a former Globe and Mail sports reporter and author of Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face Off Over the NHL.
“It’s not as difficult as it would have been for them, because under Rogers they did cut [the segment] to five minutes. At the CBC, he had come to take up the whole first intermission, so that would have been a big problem.”
A spokesman said Sportsnet is “still considering options” for the first intermission segment and that company executives would not be doing interviews at this time. Segment co-host Ron MacLean did not immediately return a telephone message.
However, it’s likely Sportsnet already had ideas for the segment’s future post-Cherry.
A complete Coach’s Corner reboot is possible or there could be a shuffling of other segments. Extended highlight packages could help fill the gap. The segment could be dropped altogether, although that’s unlikely given its history and showcase status.
The network may choose to recognize the massive impact Cherry had as a commentator, but it would be tricky to balance that with his rather ignominious exit.
A career overview could buy some time since the seat might be a little too hot for an immediate replacement. Of course, it’s possible the page gets completely turned and Cherry’s name is not mentioned at all.
Just like when he was on the air, there will be no shortage of critics and plaudits.
Burke is a 3-2 pick to replace Cherry this Saturday and a 5-4 pick to fill the role next season, according to odds released Tuesday by SportsBettingDime.com. Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson were listed among the other early favourites.
HNIC was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $5.2-billion US national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014. Coach’s Corner and HNIC are still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licencing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet.
Sportsnet apologized Sunday for Cherry’s comments about his belief that new immigrants don’t wear poppies, and in turn, don’t support veterans.
Cherry prefaced his on-air remarks Saturday night with the phrase, ‘You people’ — drawing criticism from all quarters – but denied in interviews after his departure that he was singling out visible minorities. He has not publicly apologized for his comments.
“If I had to do it over again, I probably would have said ‘Everybody,”‘ Cherry said Tuesday in an interview on Sirius XM Canada’s “Canada Talks” channel. “But I didn’t and there’s no sense of whining about it and I paid the price.”
Given his long tenure, how — or if — his departure is addressed this weekend will be fascinating, as will MacLean’s thoughts. The veteran HNIC anchor apologized last Sunday.
“I had a good time,” Cherry said. “I’m 85 years old and I’m still having a good time. As I have always said, ‘I’m glad I’m going out on my shield. I’m not going out with a whimper.”‘
Don Cherry defends Hockey Night in Canada comments but says he would have ‘used different words’
Don Cherry says he won’t apologize for his divisive comments about new immigrants not wearing poppies, but the former co-host of “Coach’s Corner” says if he could do it again, he would have chosen different words.
“I think the closest I’ll come to apologizing is I wish I had used different words,” Cherry told Global News.
“I should have said everybody. If I had to do it over again, I would have said everybody.”
Cherry, 85, was fired from the Hockey Night in Canada segment by Sportsnet Monday, following televised comments Saturday night in which he singled out “you people that come here” in Toronto and Mississauga, where he lives, for not wearing poppies, implying they don’t support Canada’s soldiers.
“You people that come here… whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy,” he said on Saturday.
In an interview with Global News, Cherry refused to back down from his comments and said that everyone should wear a poppy to honour Canada’s fallen soldiers.
“I do believe to this day that everybody in Canada should have a poppy on, out of honour and respect of the fallen soldiers that have fallen in the Second World War, Korea and the whole deal,” Cherry said.
“Those people who gave their lives, at least we can buy a poppy.”
Pressed on whether his comments were racist, Cherry said his comments weren’t directed at minorities, and that what he said applies to anyone.
“It could have been Irish, it could have been Scottish, it could have been anybody,” he said, adding that the “silent majority” supported him.
“It was picked up the way it was picked up.”
Cherry said he was planning to apologize on this week’s upcoming Hockey Night in Canada, but was never given the chance.
“I was ready to apologize,” Cherry said. “I was gonna put out a tweet, or whatever they do, saying I was wrong and I think it could have smoothed over pretty good. But that’s the way they wanted it and that’s the way it goes.”
Global News has contacted Sportsnet about whether Cherry would have apologized, but they said they had nothing further to add.
Cherry, a former player and NHL coach, had worked as a broadcaster for more than 37 years on Hockey Night in Canada, drawing attention for a number of controversial statements including calling progressives “left-wing pinkos,” describing Quebecers as “whiners,” and making derogatory comments about European hockey players.
Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement Monday that it was “the right time for him to immediately step down.”
“During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” Yabsley said.
Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean also apologized Sunday for Cherry’s remarks. During Cherry’s rant, MacLean could be seen nodding and giving a thumbs-up.
‘We were wrong:’ Ron MacLean apologizes for Don Cherry’s comments on Hockey Night in Canada
MacLean issued a televised apology that Cherry’s remarks were “hurtful, discriminatory” and that he wished he had responded differently on air.
“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong,” MacLean said. “I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond.
“Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”
Cherry told Global News that he was “disappointed” in his co-host Ron MacLean, but that the two were still friends.
“He buried me. I was very disappointed the way he handled [it],” Cherry said. “I don’t want to condemn him but I was very disappointed.”
Cherry’s remarks were roundly criticized by politicians across Canada including Toronto Mayor John Tory and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The National Hockey League also weighed in, saying the comments “made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”
Steven Purewal, a historian on the contribution of Indian soldiers during the First World War, told Global News on Monday it was wrong for Cherry to suggest immigrants don’t support Canadian veterans, noting the broadcaster has no way of knowing who’s an immigrant and who was born in Canada.
“It endorses a stereotype that the immigrant is somehow unpatriotic, is thankless about the sacrifices it took to build the country,” he said.
“What we need to be telling Canadians is that many, many diverse communities fought in the Great War and the Second World War. Without their contributions, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today.”
Meanwhile, some have been calling for the hockey host’s return. A Change.org petition called ‘Bring Back Don Cherry!’ has amassed over 108,000 signatures.
As for the long-time hockey pundit, Cherry said he is still processing being fired.
“I don’t think it’s hit yet,” he said. “It will be a little different Saturday when I sit down and watch where I was for 38 years.”
“I have no idea and I don’t think Ron Maclean has any idea what they’re going to run after the first period… It’ll be watched that’s for sure because everybody will want to see what goes on at the end of the first period.”
— With a file from Sean Boyton
Brian Burke considered favourite to replace Don Cherry
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 12, 2019 10:56AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 11:09AM EST
TORONTO – Former NHL executive Brian Burke is listed as the heavy favourite to be Don Cherry‘s successor on “Hockey Night in Canada” on one sports betting site.
SportsBettingDime.com has released odds on candidates to replace Cherry after the commentator was sacked by Sportsnet yesterday for a rant about immigrants not wearing poppies on his “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.
Burke, who currently works as an analyst at Sportsnet, is listed as the 3-2 favourite (must bet $2 to win $3) to appear on Cherry‘s longtime “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.
Burke is the 5-4 pick to be the full-time replacement next season.
Sportsnet has not said whether it plans to keep the “Coach’s Corner” segment, which has been a first-intermission staple on HNIC.
Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson are among the other betting favourites for Cherry’s job.
The site also is taking odds on what Cherry does next, with working for another media organization the favourite.
If he goes into politics, the odds consider Cherry’s most likely destination to be under Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Conservative party.
Cherry is listed as a 2,000-1 pick to join the NDP.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.
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