Rafa, Kimmy conquer New York

SCOTT RILEY, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Well, we didn't quite get the Federer-Nadal final that we all wanted ... but we did get a pair of extremely popular champions at the 2010 U.S. Open -- Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters.

The world No. 1 Nadal was simply amazing in New York, as he dropped only one set in seven matches en route to becoming only the seventh man in history to corral the career Grand Slam. The strapping Spaniard topped 2007 runner-up Novak Djokovic, after waiting out a two-hour rain delay, in four sets in a third straight Monday men's final in Flushing.

"It's a dream to have the career Grand Slam, but this is more of a dream to have the U.S. Open (title)," Nadal said. "I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined to have the four Grand Slams."

Nadal had never reached a U.S. Open final before this year, and he still needed New York for the career Slam.

But the Mallorcan strongman is now also only one of three players, and two men, to capture the career Golden Slam, which is the four majors and Olympic gold, as he joins Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi in that rarest of departments.

His most recent success gave Nadal career major number nine, which is good enough for sixth place on the men's all-time list, and he's still only 24 years old. He's now a brilliant 9-2 in his career major finals and also became the first man in 41 years (Rod Laver in 1969) to win three straight Grand Slam events in one calendar year, and he did it on three different surfaces, something that Rocket Rod can't claim.

Nadal and Federer are the only men to secure the career Slam on three different surfaces. (The other career Slam gents are Laver, Agassi, Fred Perry, Don Budge and Roy Emerson.)

Meanwhile, Clijsters captured her third career and second straight U.S. Open title by lambasting shell-shocked Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in the lopsided women's final. Kimmy is the first back-to-back winner in New York since Venus Williams did it in 2000 and 2001. The Belgian stud has actually won in her last three trips to Flushing, as she nailed down her first title there in 2005, skipped the 2006, 2007 and 2008 editions due to injury or retirement, and returned with a big win last year. She also missed the 2004 Open, which means she hasn't lost a match at the National Tennis Center since 2003, when she gave way to Justine Henin in an all-Belgian final. So when Clijsters returns to New York next year, she can say 'I haven't lost at this tournament in eight years' ... and she'd be right.

Clijsters is the seventh woman in the Open Era (since 1968) to capture at least three U.S. Open titles and also became the first woman to win titles in three straight appearances there since Chris Evert captured four straight from 1975-78.

Oddly enough, the 27-year-old Clijsters has yet to capture a major title outside of New York.

Clijsters has combined with Henin to give tiny Belgium five of the last eight U.S. Open champions, as Henin ruled there in 2003 and 2007.

Note: Rafa and Clijsters collected $1.7 million apiece for their big wins.

Back over to Rafa.

In January, Nadal will try to become the first man since Laver, in '69, to rattle off four straight Grand Slam wins. The Aussie legend won four straight by tallying all four majors in both 1969 and 1962.

Nadal, by the way, has reached his nine major titles faster than the all-time Grand Slam king, Federer, who was 25 when he reached number nine, on his way to his record 16.

More Notes: Nadal became the first left-hander in 26 years to capture the U.S. Open (John McEnroe in 1984) and the first Spanish champion there in 35 years (Manuel Orantes in 1975).

And do we still think that Federer is the GOAT (greatest of all-time)? His 16 majors would indicate that he is, but Nadal is still in his prime and a dominant 14-7 lifetime against his extraordinary Swiss rival.

"I think talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he's much better than me, so that's true at that moment," Nadal said. "I think will be the true all my life."

What can you say ... that's one modest dude.

The 29-year-old great former No. 1 Federer failed in his bid to reach a seventh straight U.S. Open final when he lost to a determined Djokovic in an epic five-set semifinal last Saturday. The Djoker, who lost to the Fed in the 2007 Open finale, overcame a two-sets-to-one deficit and staved off two match points before dismissing his fellow top-three stalwart.

Federer captured a record five straight U.S. Open titles from 2004-08 and gave way to Argentine slugger Juan Martin del Potro in last year's men's Big Apple championship match. Only Ivan Lendl reached more consecutive U.S. Open finals than Federer, as the menacing Czech landed in eight straight (3-5) from 1982-89.

Note: Federer failed to reach a Grand Slam final for a third straight time for the first time since mid-2003.

For the record, an American male hasn't captured America's Open in what will be eight years, as Andy Roddick was the last one to do so back in 2003.

The former top-ranked Roddick went belly-up at this past Open, as he exited the draw in the second round at the hands of gritty Serbian Janko Tipsarevic. It marked A-Rod's earliest loss there in five years, and he's now failed to get past the third round in New York two straight years.

You'd have to believe that Roddick's never going to win another major title, or at least I do. (Or is it don't?)

The best chance for a American woman to run the table in Flushing was Venus, since her dominant younger sister Serena was absent from the '10 field after having surgery to repair some cuts on her foot, sustained at a German restaurant back in July.

FYI: Serena has returned to the practice courts, but her return is still unclear.

Venus enjoyed a solid two weeks in the Apple, reaching the semifinals, where her luck finally ran out against her fellow former world No. 1 Clijsters, in three sets. Venus is a two-time U.S. Open champ, but hasn't reached a final there since 2002, a year when she lost to Serena.

The aforementioned Zvonareva may have been swatted like a fly by Clijsters in the final this past weekend, but the resurgent Russian has now appeared in two straight major finals, as she landed in her first-ever Grand Slam title bout at Wimbledon in July, but also lost there, in straights, at the hands of the mighty Serena.

Right now, Zvonareva is indeed the top Russian player in the women's game, better than three-time major champion Maria Sharapova, two-time Grand Slam runner-up Elena Dementieva and two-time major titlist Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Back over to the men.

Djokovic, who's had some issues with the U.S. Open fans in the past, established himself as one of the fan favorites at this latest Open appearance, endearing himself to New Yorkers with gut-wrenching five-set victories over Federer and his fellow countryman Viktor Troicki at the '10 fortnight. The Djoker played some of his best-ever tennis the last two weeks, and was the only player to take a set off Nadal at the year's final major.

The world No. 2 Serb clearly has enough game to capture another major, something he hasn't done since winning his first Slam almost three years ago at the 2008 Aussie Open.

The women's top seed in Flushing was a red-hot 2009 runner-up Caroline Wozniacki. Unfortunately for the defensive-specialist from Denmark, she was upended by Zvonareva in straight sets in the semis.

Wozniacki, who lost to Clijsters in last year's Open finale, was riding a 12- match overall winning streak as she headed to the Open seeking a third WTA title in three events. But the world No. 2 star will have to wait until next year to capture a first-ever major championship.

Some of the other men's contenders in New York were supposed to be Andy Murray and Robin Soderling.

The 2009 and 2010 French Open runner-up Soderling did himself proud by reaching the quarterfinals, where there was no shame in losing to Federer in straights, while Murray was a big disappointment, losing to the other Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, in only the third round. Many thought that Murray had a chance to secure that elusive first-ever Grand Slam title, but the 2010 Aussie Open runner-up and 2008 U.S. Open runner-up failed to reach the quarterfinals in Flushing for a fifth time in six trips.

Is Murray maybe a bit overrated at this point?

I don't think so, but he still needs to capture that major.

Serena wasn't the only stud to miss the Open, as the 2009 men's champion del Potro is still sidelined following wrist surgery and the '10 Aussie Open runner-up Henin won't return until 2011 because of an elbow injury suffered while playing Clijsters at Wimbledon this summer. Del Potro is still the only player to beat both Nadal and Federer at the same Grand Slam event, which he did in New York a year ago.

Also newsworthy from the 2010 U.S. Open was the weather. Players had to endure extreme heat conditions during the first week, while the oppressive heat subsided and was replaced by gale-force-type (exaggeration) winds, especially inside the massive Ashe Stadium, where the outcome of some matches was definitely affected by some swirling gusts.

But with all the different storylines over the last two weeks, the 2010 U.S. Open will simply be remembered as the one where Rafa put himself in the pantheon of Grand Slam tennis. And he can still only go up.


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