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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: September 16, 11:25 AM ET
Nadal owns the Grand Slam season

By Jane McManus
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- On a knee that would seem better suited to clay -- his favorite surface before injury -- Rafael Nadal capped an impressive comeback by winning the US Open, the fourth and final major of the 2013 season.

He adds it to the French Open title, but, with his having won eight of the past nine at Roland Garros, that's a trophy they could have engraved with Nadal's name before the first ball was struck.

The 2013 Grand Slam season is complete -- Novak Djokovic won the Australian and Andy Murray made the British Isles ecstatic when he won Wimbledon -- so it's time to access who the sport's biggest winners, breakthrough players and disappointments were.

Player of the year: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal had plenty to celebrate after overcoming injury.
You could add comeback player of the year to this award, given that Nadal had watched the 2012 US Open men's final from his couch, having withdrawn from the tournament because of that knee. Some questioned whether he would ever be full strength again, much less compete on a demanding surface like the hard courts.

But Nadal ended the US Open with a 22-0 record on the surface this season. All told, Nadal is No. 2 in the world and is challenging Djokovic -- whom he met in the semis of the French and final of the US Open -- for the top ranking in the world at the year's end. Nadal has 13 Grand Slam titles, just one behind Pete Sampras and four behind Roger Federer.

Given the way he finished the Grand Slam season at age 27, it is hard to imagine he won't add to that total when the 2014 season gets underway.

Match of the Slam season: Novak Djokovic and ...

If there was a riveting match later in a major this year, odds are Djokovic was involved. He was the master of the five-setter and had four memorable matches this Grand Slam season.

First, before he won the Australian title, Djokovic had to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in a marathon fourth-round match, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10. At the French, Djokovic lost to Nadal in the final, 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(3), 7-9.

At Wimbledon, he beat Juan Martin del Potro in a semifinal; 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3. Finally, he beat Wawrinka again, this time in a semifinal in New York, 2-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Breakthrough player: Stanislas Wawrinka

Wawrinka hadn't been in the top 10 since 2008, and he hired Magnus Norman as his coach in April. Since then, the 28-year-old has taken part in some of the best Grand Slam matches this season and has re-established himself as a formidable opponent with a wicked one-handed backhand.

Wawrinka reached the fourth round of the Australian before falling to eventual champ Djokovic, then made it to the quarterfinal of the French Open, where he lost to eventual champ Nadal.

He lost to Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of Wimbledon, but Wawrinka reached the first major semifinal of his career at the US Open, where he fell in five sets to Djokovic. Wawrinka also had seven wins over top-10 players this year. Not bad for a player who had slipped significantly coming into the season.

Underachiever of the season: Roger Federer

After he lost to Tommy Robredo in the third round of the US Open, Federer admitted it has been a tough stretch this year. Federer, a player with 17 Grand Slam titles to his name, had just lost to a man he had held a 10-0 lifetime record against.

He is still one of the most artistic players in the game, but Federer is no longer one of the most dominant. He didn't reach a single Grand Slam final this year, and, when he lost in the second round of Wimbledon, it ended a streak of 36 straight quarterfinal appearances in majors. His best result was a semifinal at the Australian, where he lost to Murray, and he reached a quarterfinal at the French.

Perhaps Federer's career is fading, or might may have another act coming, the way Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras did. Either way, after the US Open, Federer didn't sound like a player ready to hand in his racket.