Relentless and crushing, Rafael Nadal stomped his way to a 16th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday night with the kind of performance that makes you think he may just have a shot at chasing down Roger Federer in the all-time list.
His third US Open win, four years after his last, came with a dominant, destructive 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over a valiant but in the end utterly helpless Kevin Anderson of South Africa. After a first set that took an hour, world No.1 Nadal put his foot down and the Spaniard is now within three slams of Federer again.
It is almost laughable to think that Nadal and Federer have shared the four Grand Slams in 2017; Federer winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Nadal taking Roland Garros and the US Open. But it has happened and it is tempting to think that had Nadal not let slip a 3-1 lead over Federer in the final in Melbourne, he would now be just one slam behind. He didn’t face a top 20 player all week but he was dominant, confident and a fully deserving champion.
“Of course, it’s a very special two weeks for me,” Nadal said. “Personally it’s just unbelievable what happened this year. After a couple of years with some troubles, injuries, some moments playing not good…to close the Grand Slam year winning here in New York is (fantastic)."
Anderson had reached the final on the back of six strong performances, taking advantage of a generous draw but doing what he needed to in reaching his first Grand Slam final. Nadal had won their previous four matches but had not won any hard court title since early 2014, giving Anderson some hope. The South African came with a game plan, to serve as well as he had throughout the tournament and attack the space on the Nadal forehand, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even close.
Standing so far back to return the Anderson serve that his backswing was in danger of hitting the line judges, Nadal never allowed the 31-year-old South African to hit through him. It took every bit of power and fight that Anderson, the first South African-born player to make a Grand Slam singles final since Kevin Curren at Wimbledon in 1985, had to even stay in the match in the early stages as the first five games took 35 minutes. Each of his service games were under threat while Nadal cruised on his and when the break finally came, for 4-3, it just seemed inevitable.
After breaking in another long game, the Spaniard had the set and if anything, the manner of it could not have played more into his hands, the physicality of it draining Anderson from the start, the mental impact of breaking him down so soon cutting through to his core. At 6ft 8in, Anderson was the tallest ever player to reach a slam final but he was cut down by the relentlessness that Nadal brings to the court every time.
Personally it’s just unbelievable what happened this year
Once he had the first set, Nadal relaxed even more and his own attacking game flowed. He served brilliantly – he didn’t face a break point in the entire match - volleyed beautifully – winning 16 of 16 points at the net – and his court coverage, quite simply, was breathtaking. Nadal’s movement has never been better and Anderson was a spectator.
The South African tried to step it up, using the well-worked tactic of hitting to the Nadal forehand to exploit the space but too often, he missed, over-hitting when he did have a chance, forced into it by the speed and quality of Nadal on the run.
The second set went by in a flash and the third came down to one break, in the third game. Serving for the match, Anderson got to deuce on the Nadal serve for the first time, but it was too little too late, Nadal sending down an unreturnable serve and then volleying a backhand into the open court.
For Anderson, it may have been a disappointing climax but it was the best fortnight of his career, a massive step forward. “I know we’re the same age, but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life,” he said to Nadal, before expanding on a year that began with him missing the Australian Open because of injury.
“It’s been an amazing two weeks for me. To come back and make my first finals of a Grand Slam, it’s really been a special two weeks.”
Anderson thanked his parents, in particular, for their role in getting to this point. “My Dad built a wall in our garden and without them I wouldn’t be here. This isn’t the result I would have wanted but I’ll keep fighting, like you’ve always taught me, and I’ll be back.”
As for Nadal, he also paid tribute to the efforts of his uncle, Toni Nadal, for whom it was a last Grand Slam event as the coach to the world No.1. “I can’t thank him enough for all the things that he did for me,” Nadal said. “Probably without him I would never have been playing tennis and it’s great that I had somebody like him pushing me all the time, because he was strong and he had great motivation to practice with me since I was a kid.
"Thank you very much to him because for sure he’s one of the most important (people) in my life.”
Evergreen Hingis doubles up
Martina Hingis just keeps on winning Grand Slam titles. Fresh from her victory in the mixed doubles with Jamie Murray on Saturday, the Swiss added the women’s doubles title as she and Yung-Jan Chan of Taipei beat seventh seeds Lucy Hradecka and Katarina Siniakova of Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2.
Hingis now has 25 Grand Slams to her name, five in singles and 20 in women’s doubles and mixed combined, 10 of them since 2015.
Houdet claims wheelchair glory
Frenchman Stephane Houdet clinched the wheelchair singles title with a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Alfie Hewett of Great Britain. It was his first Grand Slam singles win since the US Open of 2013, his fourth overall and even at 46, there may be more to come yet.
Ambitious Anisimova, victorious Wu
This was the third year in a row that the girls’ final has been an all-American affair – this time won by 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova, beating Cori Gauff. Anisimova’s 6-0, 6-2 win more than made up for her loss in the qualifying event of the women’s singles and she does not lack for ambition.
“I hope to be No.1 and win every Grand Slam,” she said, with a straight face. China’s Yibing Wu, the No.2 seed, upset the No.1 seed Axel Geller of Argentina 6-4, 6-4 to win the boys’ title.