Rafael Nadal claimed his 19th Grand Slam championship and moved within one of Roger Federer's record by defeating Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 in the US Open final.

The 33-year-old Nadal was playing in his 27th major final but 23-year-old Medvedev — who was in his first — fought all the way in a classic encounter at Flushing Meadows.

The emotion of the occasion — and a highlight reel of his slam wins that played inside the stadium after he claimed match point — overwhelmed the Spanish star and tears rolled down his cheeks in a touching moment.

"It has to be one of the most emotional nights of my tennis career," Nadal said.

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Rafael Nadal in tears. Photo / Supplied/news.com.au
Rafael Nadal in tears. Photo / Supplied/news.com.au

"This victory means a lot and especially with the way the match became so difficult, so tough ... it has been a crazy match, no? I'm just emotional."

This video — which showed every grand slam victory Nadal has won from the 2005 French Open through to today — was what made the Spanish legend break down.

Add the Spaniard's haul in New York to his 12 titles at the French Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open, and the 20-19 gap between Federer and Nadal is the closest it's been in 15 years. Federer led 1-0 after his breakthrough triumph at the All England Club in 2004, and he had four by the time Nadal got his first at Roland Garros in 2005.

Federer, who lost in the quarterfinals at the US Open, is 38, while Nadal is 33 — making him the oldest male champion at Flushing Meadows since 1970. He's also the first man to win five majors after turning 30.

Nadal says he wants to finish his career at No. 1 in the Grand Slam standings — ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic, looming in third place currently with 16 — but also insists he won't base his happiness on how it all shakes out in the end.

This one ended the way he wanted it to. The journey just took more detours than anyone could have anticipated.

Perhaps sensing the end was near, Medvedev turned into a trickier foe. He alternated serve-and-volley surprises with a penchant for out-hitting Nadal at the baseline. For a stretch, it felt as if Medvedev simply could not miss.

It was the kind of ball-striking and shape-shifting Medvedev showed while going 20-2 during the North American hard-court circuit, reaching four finals in a row.

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The Flushing Meadows fans that jeered Medvedev in Week 1 because of his on-court behavior — he trolled his detractors by sarcastically thanking them and telling him their vitriol was why he won — were pulling for him.

Or, at least, pulling for more bang for the bucks they spent on tickets.

They certainly got that.