NEW YORK • Moments after winning one of the most gruelling tennis matches of his life, Rafael Nadal sat in his chair, a few tears streaming down his face while the large video screen showed highlights of his remarkable career.
When the camera panned to a live shot of him watching the tribute, the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium roared and he dropped his head into his hands as the trickle of tears turned into weeping.
Exhausted, overjoyed and relieved, the second seed needed every bit of his fighter's spirit to get past world No. 4 Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, in 4 hours, 50 minutes to win the US Open for the fourth time and capture his 19th Grand Slam title in utterly gripping fashion on Sunday night.
On the final point, after a service return by the Russian had sailed long, the Spaniard collapsed on his back, laid spread eagle for several moments and screamed.
One might think that winning so many Major championships would become routine.
But Nadal, 33, was pushed all the way, thanks to Medvedev's courageous comeback from being down two sets to love to force a fifth.
Afterwards, he called it one of the most emotional moments of his career, and coming out on top in what was one of the most compelling US Open men's finals in recent years was something to cherish at his age.
STILL HAVING FUN
I'm playing tennis because I love to play tennis. Tennis is more than Grand Slams. I play to be happy.
'' RAFAEL NADAL , tennis player, on whether he can surpass Roger Federer's 20 Grand Slam titles.
"The last three hours of the match were very, very intense, both mentally and physically," Nadal said. "At the end, with the video and the crowd, it was amazing. All these made the moment super special.
"This trophy means everything to me. Personal satisfaction, the way that I resisted all these tough moments, is very high.
"I normally try to hold the emotions, but for all these facts, it was impossible today."
He is now one shy of Roger Federer's Slam record, raising the spectre that he could catch his 38-year-old rival as soon as next year.
For many years, there was doubt about Nadal's ability to draw even with the Swiss, especially because he seemed injury prone.
But durability has been a recent ally of Nadal's, and with his inexorable grip on the French Open, that doubt has been replaced by a whiff of inevitability.
The win also extended the streak of consecutive Slams to 12 for tennis' "Big Three", including top-ranked Novak Djokovic, and Nadal believes their hegemony will not be ending any time soon, despite joking that "we are getting old".
"That competition, if that attracts fans and creates interest for people, that's good for our sport, no?" he said.
"I feel honoured to be part of this battle."
Asked about the likelihood of equalling if not surpassing Federer's mark, Nadal added: "I'm playing tennis because I love to play tennis.
"I can't just think about Grand Slams. Tennis is more than Grand Slams. I play to be happy.
"All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than I ever dreamed...
"What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you gave your best. In that way, I'm very, very calm, very pleased with myself."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NY TIMES