Joe Wolfond 22h ago
REUTERS/Mike Segar / Action Images
Rafael Nadal put a jewel in the crown of his incredible 2017 season Sunday, running roughshod over Kevin Anderson to win the US Open final in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
It’s Nadal’s second Grand Slam championship of the year and the 16th of his career, pulling him back within three of Roger Federer’s all-time mark. It’s his third title in Flushing Meadows, and his first since 2013.
In his first career Slam final, Anderson was unable to offer up much resistance, as Nadal neutralized his serve and kept him under constant pressure – in the rallies and on the scoreboard – from the opening ball.
The big South African came out doing what he needed to do: landing all his first serves, getting ahead early, and looking to dictate. But Nadal’s smothering defense forced him into a handful of errors, and Anderson was left scrambling for solutions. Nadal’s ridiculously deep returning position paid off, as he was able to get into the Anderson service game, breaking twice in the opening set and getting to deuce on each return game.
In a match that ostensibly pitted an attacking, power-playing big man against a counter-punching baseliner, it was Nadal who dominated in all the aspects you’d expect from the big man. He was untouchable on serve, losing just 15 points and allowing Anderson no break chances; and he was flawless at the net, winning all 16 points he played on approach.
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
Controlling the net was Anderson’s best hope of putting pressure on Nadal, but it just didn’t work for him. With Nadal blocking back everything from the baseline, Anderson started coming forward with increasing regularity, but too often he forced the issue. Neither his approaches nor his volleys were good enough, which led to his winning just 16 of 34 points at net as Nadal ripped eight passing-shot winners.
All told, it was an astonishingly clean match from the world No. 1, who hit 30 winners against just 11 unforced errors, and never gave Anderson even a glimmer of hope. Going back to his semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro, Nadal lost 25 service points in his final six sets of the tournament.
It’s true Nadal caught some breaks at this US Open, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka pulling out, and Roger Federer losing before what would’ve been the pair’s first-ever Flushing Meadows meeting in the semis. He’s the first player to win a major without facing a top-20 opponent since Pete Sampras did it at Wimbledon in 2000. But he didn’t back his way to the title, either. He played fierce, intelligent, savagely efficient tennis to win No. 16 in convincing fashion.
A year ago at this time, it was fair to wonder whether we’d even see him competing for hard-court majors in the future. He’d just lost in the fourth round to Lucas Pouille, marking the eighth straight Slam at which he failed to advance past the quarterfinals. He hadn’t won a hard-court title of any kind since the Qatar Open in January 2014. He kept losing big matches in increasingly unlikely and painful fashion. Injuries kept railroading him, age seemed to be catching up. He’d end up shutting down his season shortly afterward to deal with a nagging wrist problem.
But 2017 has seen him engineer one of the great resurgences the sport has seen, with Nadal making three Slam finals and winning two. Perhaps most importantly, as Nadal pointed out after his semifinal win, he’s been healthy all year long.
It’s nice to be reminded what he’s capable of when his body cooperates.