2019 U.S. Open Recap: Serena Falls Short of 24, Rafa Reaches 19

Tennis legend Rafael Nadal captured his 19th Grand Slam at the 2019 U.S. Open, while Serena Williams fell just short and others stood out.

Updated: Sept. 9, 2019 • 9:15 PM ET

Raphael Nadal has captured another U.S. Open title.

With dominant stars and surging newcomers, the last Grand Slam of the year generated awesome tennis. The biggest names, such as Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, reached fever pitch in their respective finals, while Coco Gauff mania continued to rise. Taylor Townsend served-and-volleyed her way past Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, while Roger Federer failed to make it past the quarterfinals, stretching his winless title streak in New York to 11 years.

On Sunday, the men’s singles final reached instant classic status when Rafael Nadal edged 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev in an almost five-hour match that rocked Arthur Ashe Stadium. No one in their right mind expected Medvedev to come back from the brink of disaster, yet he relied on the boisterous crowds to rev up his tennis engines to go for broke.

“The last three hours of the match were very, very intense, very tough mentally and physically, too,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference after winning his fourth U.S. Open and 19th major, 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.

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Serena Williams fell just short of capturing another title.

Williams wasn’t so lucky. Bianca Andreescu, a powerful mirror-image of Williams, proved she was ready for the biggest court in tennis in her debut at a major. The 19-year-old Canadian outplayed the 23-time Grand Slam winner, 6-3, 7-5, foiling Williams’ fourth attempt in 18 months to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.

“Definitely disappointing,” Williams said in her post-match press conference. “I felt like I could have done so many things a little bit better, but she played really well and she deserves this championship.”

These outcomes followed patterns found on both sides of the net, the women’s and men’s tours.

Nadal, as a founding member of the so-called Big Three, along with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, stood by his brethren to secure an even dozen titles for them in slams over the last three years. However, their dominance stretches back to 2003 Wimbledon, as they’ve won 55 of the 66 majors played.

“I don’t look at it that way (as a competition),” Nadal said. “I would love to be the one who wins more, but I am not thinking about this going to practice every day and not playing tennis for it. I’m playing tennis because I love to play tennis.

“I can’t just think about Grand Slams. Tennis is more than Grand Slams, and I need to think about the rest of the things. I play to be happy and of course the victory of today makes me super happy, but a few weeks ago I won in Montreal and it had been an important moment for me too. That competition, if that attracts fans and creates interest for people, that’s good for our sport, no? I feel honored to be part of this battle, but you can’t be all day looking next to you if one has more or one has a little bit less because you will be frustrated.”

The consistency isn’t there for the women. Since the 2015 U.S. Open, when Flavia Pennetta came out of nowhere to win her first and only major, through to this U.S. Open, 11 different women have claimed the crown.

Before the 2015 Open, Williams was the anchor, the dominant player. In fact, she had won all three slams in 2015 and was expected to earn a calendar-year Grand Slam in New York. That hadn’t been done since Steffi Graf in 1988. But the 37-year-old Williams’ role as queen of the courts took a severe turn after she gave birth to her daughter in September 2017. Her pregnancy went well, but she had multiple surgeries afterward that threatened her life. After returning to the tour, she suffered injuries while trying to reconnect with the body she had known and the body and mind she now inhabited as a mother.

So say what you will about her inability to tie Court’s 24, she has advanced to the final of four Grand Slams over the last two years. That’s not a woman ready for retirement or excuses. She still wants to get better, especially in finals.

“That was the worst match I played all tournament,” Williams said.

Medvedev, the winningest player of the hard-court season, as well as Andreescu, made believers out of doubters and proved that these young adults could dislodge the aging tennis greats.

Bianca Andreescu won her first Grand Slam at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Andreescu became the first teenager since 2004 to win in New York and the first woman to win the Open in her debut performance since the Open Era began in 1968. She’s the first Canadian to win a major, as well. In fact, Andreescu was ranked 200 last year at this time. This morning, she rose to No. 5 in the world.

As her achievement and all the baggage that comes along with that fame closed in around her, Andreescu told Good Morning America, “This is truly like an amazing accomplishment but I could definitely get used to this feeling. I’m not done yet. Having my name amongst all these amazing champions is amazing, so hopefully I can just keep it going."

But with so many champions circling in and out of the women’s top 10, can she and will she develop to the level we’ve witnessed from both Serena and elder sister Venus? Obviously, no one can be sure. However, Andreescu possesses a quality that cannot be taught. She deeply believes in herself and her game. During the final, she wasn’t so much interested in who was across the net as she was in winning the match.

“I had some doubts, because I’ve witnessed her come back from being 5-0 down, 5-1 down, 5-2 down, so I just told myself to stick with my tactics,” Andreescu said in her post-match press conference about Williams coming back to tie the second set at five apiece. “She started playing much better, and I think the crowd really helped her as well.”

Daniil Medvedev nearly won his first major at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Medvedev tried his best Andreescu impersonation. Sunday on Ashe was his debut at a major, as well. He too stumbled, admitting later that he thought he was finished in the third. But the crowds saved him, he said during the awards’ presentation, and he dug in to the delight of thousands.

“It was an amazing match,” Medvedev said in his post-match press conference after being asked how he would remember his first major final. “It’s an amazing story, all this summer has been amazing for me. I will remember every moment of it, and I have a really good memory if we talk about tennis.

“I will definitely remember it, even when I am like 70 years old.”

The lanky Russian proved just how good he was on his way to the U.S. Open. He won his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, taking out Djokovic in the semifinals. He advanced to the finals at Rogers Cup, another Masters 1000, only to lose to Nadal. And, Medvedev was the runner-up in Washington to Nick Kyrgios.

The same questions about Andreescu apply to Medvedev. Will he and can he persevere, adding titles that history predicts should belong to the Big Three? The simple answer is yes. He has a huge serve, is versatile with fierce groundstrokes, plus has good instincts around the net. He’s intuitively smart on court, even-tempered (for the most part) and as John McEnroe said on Sunday, he’s a “tactical genius.” And finally, he too possesses that innate quality of a champion, that certain something that cannot be taught but rises to the occasion when needed. We’ve seen it for almost 20 years from the Big Three.

Medvedev doesn’t know if the guard has changed in the men’s game. Certainly, if he’d beaten Nadal, that would be accurate.

“I can say that I’m sure that all of us [next generation players], we’re fighting our best to try to make this transition,” Medvedev said. “It’s really tough because these guys, they are playing good tennis. I don’t know what else to say, they’re just playing amazing tennis.

“It’s really tough to beat them, even to get a set from them. Even every game is tough to win, and we’re just doing our best job to try to make it happen sometimes.”

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