Tennis: The moments of 2010

With 2010 drawing to a close, we asked our sport correspondents to cast their minds back over the last 12 months in their specialist fields to recount their moment of the year.

Many tennis aficionados thought they would never witness such a sight. It was not so much Rafael Nadal lying on his back in celebration - we had grown accustomed to that scene in Paris, had seen it twice at Wimbledon and even watched it in Melbourne - as the stage on which it was happening.

The conditions in New York, so the experts had said, would always count against the 24-year-old Spaniard and would thwart his dream of becoming only the seventh man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles. Here, however, as Novak Djokovic hit a forehand wide on Nadal's first match point, the world No 1 was left to celebrate arguably the greatest triumph of his career by winning the US Open, in which he had never previously gone beyond the semi-finals.

It was not so long ago that Nadal was almost routinely referred to as "the king of clay". In the three months through to the final of the French Open that was always a reflection of his domination on Europe's clay courts, but for the rest of the year the description carried the implication that he was a one-dimensional player, uneasy on any surface other than his beloved terre battue.

Nadal's first four Grand Slam titles were all won at Roland Garros and even though he had reached two Wimbledon finals it was not until his extraordinary triumph on the All England Club grass two years ago that the wider world began to appreciate that the Majorcan was no one-trick pony. Seven months later he won a Grand Slam title on a third surface, the hard courts of the Australian Open.

Nevertheless, for some critics the failure to win the US Open still separated Nadal from the all-time greats. He had usually paid a price at Flushing Meadows for his efforts in his clay and grass-court campaigns, while the hard courts of the north American circuit traditionally took their toll on his troublesome knees.

The combination of a quick playing surface, the late-summer New York heat and fast-flying Wilson balls also seemed to count against Nadal, who did not have the serve or ground strokes to take advantage. His forehand in particular, struck with heavy top spin, was a huge weapon on clay and grass, where he had more time to take a big backswing, but the conditions at Flushing Meadows always suited players with flatter ground strokes.

When Nadal arrived at this year's US Open it seemed that the pattern of previous seasons would be repeated. Following his remarkable clay-court run, when he became the first man ever to win the French Open and all three Masters Series tournaments, and his second victory at Wimbledon, Nadal had lost in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively of two hard-court events in the build-up to New York. He thought his backhand had been "terrible", he had been making too many unforced errors on his forehand and his serve had been ineffective.

Nevertheless, after a laboured three-hour victory over Teymuraz Gabashvili in his opening match, Nadal showed his determination to defy the odds. "The ball is the most difficult thing for me," he explained. "I think it's easier for players who hit the ball flat rather than those who hit it with top-spin. But I won the Olympics playing with this ball. I won in Beijing in 2005 with this ball. I can do it."

Nadal felt the key was not to adapt his ground strokes but to change his tactics. "The thing is to play with top spin, but to play very aggressively all the time, to play at a very high rhythm," he said.

The one stroke Nadal did change was his serve. Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, suggested a change of grip, enabling the world No 1 to hit the ball as he had at Wimbledon, faster and flatter. The result, for a player whose serve had been considered one of the weakest parts of his game, was extraordinary. In seven matches Nadal dropped serve only five times, a performance that only Andy Roddick had matched since such statistics were first compiled in 1991. The confidence it gave Nadal was evident in all areas of his game.

Gabashvili, Denis Istomin, Gilles Simon, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco and Mikhail Youzhny were all beaten in straight sets as Nadal eased into a final against Djokovic, who had ended Roger Federer's run of six successive appearances in the final. Nadal had won 14 of his previous 21 matches against Djokovic, but had lost their three most recent meetings and seven of their 10 contests on hard courts.

The final - played on a Monday because of bad weather for the third year in succession - was a match of the highest quality. Djokovic defended heroically, saving 20 out of 26 break points, but Nadal struck the ball beautifully, hitting it with awesome power and attacking even when stretched to the limit.

Breaking serve twice in the first five games, Nadal took the opening set in 50 minutes before Djokovic became the only player to break the Spaniard's serve twice in the tournament to take control of the second. After a two-hour rain break, when Djokovic was leading 4-1, Nadal dropped his only set of the tournament.

The third set featured some wonderful play as both men hit the ball with enormous power. Nadal held his serve with relative ease, while Djokovic was put under relentless pressure. The Spaniard converted only one of his 11 break points in the set, but it was enough to make the crucial breakthrough, after which he won the fourth set with something to spare to complete a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

In winning, Nadal joined Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and Federer as the only men to have won all of the sport's greatest prizes. With nine Grand Slam titles to his name, the 24-year-old is on course to overtake Federer's record of 16 major crowns. His early successes on clay owed much to his ability as a counter-puncher, but on other surfaces he has learned to attack more. Four of his last five Grand Slam titles have been won on grass or hard courts.

As a new season approaches, we should not be surprised if the Spaniard emerges an even better player in 2011. One comment he made in the wake of his New York triumph was an ominous warning to his rivals: "My goal all my life has been the same: to keep improving and make myself feel a better player next year."

The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?