Rafael Nadal wins a scintillating U.S. Open final. Photos from a new school year. And “Boardwalk Empire” is back, with too many people on the boardwalk

Nadal.USOPEN

I have been denying that Rafael Nadal is the greatest tennis player of all time for years now.
I have been saying that Roger Federer won more, more consistently, on different surfaces and against different opponents. Federer is, in my mind, the G.O.A.T., and will always be.
But I’m starting to crack a little. Because this Nadal kid just continues to amaze. Less than a year after being out of the sport with another knee injury, he has roared back and won another U.S. Open on Monday, in four compelling and high-quality sets over Novak Djokovic. The second and third sets featured as brilliant and high-level tennis as you’re likely to see, including this phenomenal 54-shot rally that you really must see if you haven’t.

Nadal looked headed for defeat, down 3-1 in the third set, yet his will, his unbending will, prevailed. He is so strong, so consistent, and so powerful that if he is somehow able to stay healthy, I now think he’ll go down as the greatest of all time, because if he stays healthy he’ll pass Federer in Slam titles (17-13 right now for Fed).
Which is really hard for me to admit as a Federer fan.
Couple quick-hit thoughts on the match:

— Don’t let the score fool you; Djokovic played very well for long stretches. But his will was broken by Nadal after the Serb lost that third set; his mental toughness was unparalleled just two years ago, when he crushed Nadal and all other comers. Now? I’m wondering if his confidence is gone.
— Nadal never looks tired. Ever. Even after epic rallies, he seems ready to go a few more rounds. He said it best after the match, that only Djokovic can bring out this level in him. And the two have played some epic matches over the years; we’re so fortunate that they have each other as foils.

— Mary Carillo, as usual, was fantastic in the CBS commentary booth, even though as usual John McEnroe wouldn’t shut the hell up, even for a second, to let the match breathe. Carillo’s best comment? She said Nadal was a part of the best matches she’s ever seen on a hardcourt (his 2012 six-hour epic loss to Djokovic), on grass (his 2008 Wimbledon win over Fed, the greatest match ever played), and on clay (this year’s 5-set triumph over Djokovic in the semis).
That’s pretty high praise coming from a lifetime tennis-watcher like Carillo.

— Loved how into it the New York crowd was. Don’t love a 5 p.m. Monday start for a championship final. But I am glad the Open gave these guys a day off between the semis and final; it made for so much better tennis.

bigpicture.schools

**So Monday was the first day of school in New York City; I know most of you around the country have had your kids back in school for a while now.
Looks like I’ll be doing the substitute teacher thing again this year, as I wasn’t able to land a full-time classroom position. Which of course means, for all of you, more crazy stories from my professional life of herding teenagers in small rooms.

To celebrate the new school year, the awesome photo site on Boston.com, the Big Picture, has photos of what school looks like from around the world.

Definitely some eye-opening pictures there; the one above is from a school in Japan (I love the half-asleep girl with her hand up).

BoardwalkEmpire

**Finally today, one of my favorite shows is back, Part 2. “Boardwalk Empire” started its fourth season Sunday night, and as much as I like the show and am happy it’s back, I don’t understand why they keep adding new cast members. (SPOILER ALERT. STOP READING IF YOU’RE A FAN AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE PREMIERE YET.)

The show has so many supporting players who aren’t used enough, including Al Capone (who was hilarious and crazy as usual Sunday), Arnold Rothstein, and Chalky White, that I don’t know why they keep insisting on adding new actors and actresses. I’m not really interested in Gillian and her whorehouse anymore, although apparently she’s still a big character.  The only new character who seems intriguing is the young FBI agent, Knox, who beautifully set up his partner to be killed so Knox could keep a bootlegger’s liquor.

Still, there were good signs on Sunday. I like that Nucky is getting back into business with Chalky, and I like that he threw out that floozy who was just using him to become a star. I also think Al Capone is just about ready to overthrow Torrio in Chicago, and that should be fun to watch.
And Richard Harrow’s killing spree? Always a good time.

For all its flaws, “Boardwalk Empire” is still beautiful to watch, and beautifully acted. I just wish they would focus on the characters they already have.

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