Rafael Nadal, playing with dogged determination and relentless fury, defeated top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final of the U.S. Open last night, capturing his 13th Grand Slam title and edging closer to regaining the No. 1 ranking. It was the 37th meeting between the two in a rivalry characterized by guts and gumption and matches replete with marathon rallies that tax both players to their physical limits. Nadal, ranked No. 2, upped his lead to 22-15 in the duo’s duels. Ever since returning to the tour in February following seven months on the shelf with a knee injury, Rafa has played like a house on fire, posting a 60-3 record and winning 10 tournaments in 12 finals. “Very, very emotional, no?” Nadal said during the trophy presentation. “Probably only my team knows how much (this) means to me.” Starting in sunlight and ending under the lights, Nole and Rafa battled for three hours and 21 minutes in a test of wills and endurance. Rallies lasting 15, 25 or more strokes were the norm. “I have played against Rafa, on different surfaces and different occasions, points like this where you just feel that there is the last drop of energy that you need to use in order to win the point,” Djokovic said. “Sometimes I was winning those points, sometimes him. It’s what we do when we play each other, always pushing each other to the limit.” Perhaps still weary from his 4-hour, 9-minute semifinal against Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday, Djokovic started sluggish and was broken twice by a fresher Nadal who took the opening set in 42 minutes. The 26-year-old Serb found his mojo in the second set, securing his first break in the sixth game following a 54-shot rally, to go up 4-2. Nadal broke right back though, as Nole appeared to be struggling to catch his breath. Undaunted and revived, Djokovic broke again and then held to even the match at a set apiece. The Serbian surge continued as Nole broke for the third straight time to open the third set and had Nadal reeling. Rafa fended off a break point in the third game to avoid falling a double break behind. The missed opportunity would come back to haunt Djokovic. Nadal got the break back in the sixth game and then saved three break points in the ninth game to go up 5-4. “It’s like it was a momentum change out there from love/40, 4-all third set, he started playing really good,” Djokovic said. Nadal broke in the next game to take the set. Breaks in the second and sixth games of the fourth set were all Nadal needed to capture his second U.S. Open crown. Djokovic hit 46 winners to 27 for Nadal, but committed 53 unforced errors to just 20 for his opponent. Now 27-years old, Nadal trails only Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14) in Grand Slam titles.