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    At the Net: Rafa & Serena: King and Queen of the Courts

    10:48 AM, Sep 10, 2013   |    comments
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    Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Another U.S. Open is in the books and it should come as no surprise that the game's hottest players were there at the end when the big hardware was hoisted into the New York air.

    Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams headed to the Big Apple having both finished atop the U.S. Open Series (the North American hardcourt events leading up to the Open) and both superstars continued their recent winning ways en route to titles at the year's final Grand Slam tournament, with both stars coming out on top in a pair of marquee 1-versus-2 finals.

    The amazing Nadal has been serving like a madman of late, so much so that he improved to an unlikely 22-0 on hardcourts this year by "upsetting" current world No. 1 and Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in Monday's brilliant men's final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It marked the 37th career meeting between the two greats, which is a record for matchups on the men's side in the Open Era (since 1968).

    The return-of-serve artist that is Djokovic managed only three breaks against the Spanish bull that is Nadal, who ultimately prevailed in four sets, including an unfortunately lopsided 6-1 final set.

    While you can possibly argue who's the best player on the men's side -- the six-time major champion Djokovic, Nadal (my pick) or reigning Wimbledon titlist Andy Murray -- there's no question who the best women's player is right now, and maybe sometime in the near future we may even be arguing Serena is the greatest of all time. Dare is say ... the GOAT.

    Serena's latest victim in the U.S. Open final was the same one as last year, former No. 1 and reigning Australian Open queen Victoria Azarenka, as the American powerhouse outlasted her Belarusian counterpart in three sets for the second time in two years at Ashe Stadium.

    The American great repeated at the U.S. Open for the first time in her career, and corralled U.S. Open title No. 5. Her grand total for Grand Slam singles titles now sits at 17, which is good enough for sixth place all-time, and good enough for fourth in the Open Era. Only Steffi Graf (22), Chris Evert (18) and Martina Navratilova (18) have captured more majors over the last 45 years. And something tells me that Serena's gonna pass 'em all.

    The 31-year-old already owns nine titles on the WTA circuit this year, one in which she's a dazzling 67-4 overall.

    The 27-year-old Nadal, meanwhile, now has his career Grand Slam total up to 13, and only Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14) are ahead of the mighty Mallorcan on the men's ledger.

    Can Rafa catch Roger? Why not?

    He appears to be at the very top of his formidable game, and, heck, he may even be able to reach Roger just because of the French Open, where Nadal's already owns a record eight titles with no immediate end to his Roland Garros reign in sight.

    The former No. 1 Nadal currently holds half of the men's major titles, while Serena also has that same distinction on the women's side. They are both the reigning French Open champs.

    Serena is already ranked No. 1 among the women, while the ATP rankings say Nadal is still only No. 2 on the men's side. But we all know better than that right now. In addition to being a perfect 22-0 on hardcourts this year, Rafa is a sizzling 60-3 overall, including 10-2 in a whopping 12 finals, this after returning in February following a seven-month knee-injury layoff which forced him to miss last year's Olympic Games in London and the U.S. Open, and this year's Aussie extravaganza.

    The high-flying Spaniard also now owns 60 career titles on the grueling ATP World Tour.

    Speaking of the aforementioned Federer, I think it's safe to say his Grand Slam-winning days may be over. After finishing as a stunning second-round loser at Wimbledon, the Swiss icon and five-time U.S. Open champ bowed out in the fourth round in Flushing, as he failed to reach a U.S. Open quarterfinal for the first time since 2003. Wow.

    The once-mighty Fed has captured only one major title at the last 14 Grand Slam events (Wimbledon last year).

    Nadal, who was a shocking first-round loser at Wimbledon in June, and Djokovic have combined to win 12 of the last 15 major titles and the two stalwarts have met in three of the last four finals in Gotham, with Nadal winning two. Djokovic has played in the last four U.S. Open finals, going 1-3, and he's now 1-4 lifetime in the championship round in New York. He lost to Murray in last year's quality five-set finale.

    The "Big Four" -- Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer -- have combined to win 34 of the last 35 Grand Slam titles, while Serena and Azarenka have combined to capture six of the last eight majors on the ladies' side.

    And what happened to Murray in Queens? The British star headed to the Open as the reigning champ. He's also the reigning Wimbledon titlist and Olympic gold medalist. But no one old Stan Wawrinka, who stunningly upended the third seed in straight sets in the quarterfinals last week.

    Rafa and Serena each pocketed $3.6 million as the latest U.S. Open champs, a figure that included $1 million bonus money for finishing atop the standings for the U.S. Open Series.

    In the grand (slam) scheme of things, is Serena better than Steffi, Martina, or Chrissie? Probably. And is Rafa better than Roger or Pete? I'm not touchin' that one ...

    The Sports Network

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