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Rafael Nadal outlasts Daniil Medvedev in U.S. Open epic; one shy of Roger Federer’s record

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal would not succumb to Daniil Medvedev in 4 hours, 51 minutes in the U.S. Open final. But the two-minute tribute video after Nadal won his 19th Grand Slam singles title in the five-set epic?

That brought the fiercest competitor in tennis to tears.

“Unforgettable moment,” Nadal said. “The emotions have been there watching all the success, all the moments that came to my mind in that moment. Yeah, I tried to hold the emotion, but some moments was impossible.”

Nadal has achieved what many thought was not possible in this sport. He is now one Slam title shy of Roger Federer‘s record total after outlasting a resilient Medvedev 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Nadal was up a break of a serve in the third, then later had two break points to serve for the match in that set.

“A crazy match, no?” said Nadal, who is 209-1 when winning the first two sets in a five-set match. “The nerves were so high after having the match almost under control.”

Medvedev, trying to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam, had one of the most impressive major final debuts in defeat. The fifth seed nearly ended a run of 11 straight majors won among Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic. It could have been a turning point going into a new decade.

He was ready to concede when down in that third set.

“In my mind I was already, OK, what do I say in the [runner-up] speech,” said Medvedev, who had never before made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. “Trying to give a fight but not really. … See how far it goes. It went far, but unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

At 33, Nadal becomes the first man to win five Slams in his 30s. He did so after Federer, 38, and Djokovic, 32, exited the last Slam of the 2010s with injuries. It was on Nadal to extend the Big Three’s streak.

VIDEO: Nadal cries while watching Grand Slam titles montage

Who knows how much longer they will reign, but 2020 is shaping up to be special.

Federer must win the Australian Open in January, or Nadal can at least tie the record with a 13th French Open title in the spring. Nobody has had more success in Australia than seven-time champ Djokovic, who is still in the mix with 16 Slams.

Nadal has said the chase is a motivation, but not an obsession.

“You can’t be all day looking next to you about if one having more or one having little bit less because you will be frustrated,” he said. “All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream.”

Nadal is on a roll and looking healthier than his fellow living legends. He made the semifinals of all four Grand Slams this year for the first time since 2008, when he overtook Federer for the No. 1 ranking for the first time. This comes after Nadal was pegged years ago to have the shortest career of the trio, given his every-point-is-your-last style and knee problems.

Medvedev, 23, bid for history, one day after Bianca Andreescu became the first woman born in the 2000s to lift a major trophy. It would have been a party-crashing way to end the decade and snap a streak of 61 straight men’s Slams won by 1980s babies.

Not to be for Medvedev, who became a villain of sorts this tournament, giving a covert middle finger to a chair umpire and drawing boos from the crowd all the way through his introduction Sunday. Arthur Ashe Stadium turned as he rallied in the third and fourth sets. It began chanting “Med-ve-dev.”

“I will remember every moment of it,” he said. “I knew I have to leave my heart out there for them.”

He came the closest of any man in the next generation to breaking through thus far. Medvedev’s previous longest Slam match was 3 hours, 54 minutes. Nadal, who had played five matches of 5:05 or longer, took control after the four-hour mark in the fifth set, breaking Medvedev twice in a row. Medvedev broke back one last time before Nadal extinguished him.

“The way you are playing is a big joke,” Medvedev told Nadal at the trophy ceremony. “What you’ve done for tennis in general, I think a hundred million of kids watching you play want to play tennis.”

For Medvedev, taking three sets off Nadal was too much of a task after winning 20 matches since the end of Wimbledon (same amount as Nadal, Federer and Djokovic combined going into Sunday). When Nadal’s baseline game wasn’t working, he went to net. He serve-and-volleyed.

Ten years ago here, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro ended a streak of 18 straight majors won by the Big Three (17 by Federer and Nadal). It brought into question if a shift might start in the 2010s.

Each of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic lulled for a stretch over the next decade. Others broke through. But each of the Big Three pulled back from injury or a drop in form to win more Slams. Namely, all of them since the start of 2017.

“I would love to be the one who have more, yes,” Nadal said. “But I really believe that I will not be happier or less happy if that happens or not happen. What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you gived your best.”

MORE: Roger Federer undecided on Olympics

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Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager

J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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