A year ago during the U.S. Open final, Rafael Nadal wasn't even in New York, out of the event because of a nagging knee injury that basically made the second half of his 2012 season obsolete.
A year later, Rafael Nadal is the best male tennis player in the world, taking out No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to win his second U.S. Open and 13th career Grand Slam title.
His win earlier this year at the French Open might have told the world that Nadal isn't finished yet in his career, but he has always been a different beast on clay. Winning on a hard surface like he did on Monday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium wasn't just a good effort, but a monumental one against a guy that beat him on this same court two years ago to snag his first U.S. Open trophy.
Nadal was relentless, taking the opening set in 42 minutes and despite a disappointing second set, came back strong in the third after getting broke in the first game by Djokovic. Halfway through that third set it looked like Novak had the momentum and was going to cruise to a set advantage, but Nadal broke him to even the set at 3-3 and after a couple of holds, won his service game after being down 0-40 to Djokovic and broke him the next game to snag the third set and set himself up for complete dominance in the fourth.
The fourth set resembled what Serena Williams did just a night before on this same court after dropping a second set to Victoria Azarenka. Williams lost a second set tiebreaker after serving for the match, and while the momentum seemed to be with Azarenka, it was Williams who came out and dominated the final set 6-1 to win the U.S. Open.
On Monday it was Nadal that took his game to another level in the fourth set to win by that same margin and wrap up an incredible hard court season.
What was the biggest difference between Nadal and Djokovic on Monday evening? The unforced errors by Djokovic, who had 53 to Nadal's 20. Djokovic seemed to go for broke a lot more, hitting 19 more winners than Nadal, but it was that mentality that forced Djokovic to go for so many tough shots and inevitably dump a few in the net or hit a few long.
Nadal's court coverage and stamina was absolutely incredible the entire match, and that is saying something when you're going up against a guy that wins points like this one.
A year ago we had no idea what would ever come from Rafael Nadal, but no we know he isn't just back, but he's back better and healthier than ever.