Rafael Nadal finished off his 2017 Grand Slam season in near-perfect form by crushing Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 16th Grand Slam title and third US Open.
“Very happy,” Nadal said. “Been a great two weeks. Increasing level of tennis, increasing of confidence during that two weeks. I have this trophy with me again here in New York. Means a lot to me. There is no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me after a very emotional season in all aspects.
“So very happy the way that I played, happy the way that I managed the pressure, and the way that I was competing during the whole event. Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit have been there in a very positive way all the time.”
The match didn’t have much drama going in because few if anyone thought the first-time finalist Anderson would be able to pull off the upset or even mount a challenge. But did anyone expect Nadal to drop just 15 points on serve to Anderson’s 45?
After three very difficult early holds by Anderson to start the final, you knew it was only a matter of time before Nadal would break through. And that’s what happened.
Both players started out edgy with Anderson actually holding his own in the longer rallies. But the South African was quickly under pressure on his serve fighting off break points in lengthy second and third service games.
Finally, at 3-all Nadal got the first break with the help of an Anderson double fault on deuce. And once Rafa got the lead, his game relaxed while Anderson’s fell apart.
Rafa ran off the last four games of the first then broke again for 4-2 in the second and it was over.
Nadal was terrific on serve losing just 7 points in first serve and only 8 on second the whole match. And he never faced a break point. He finished with 30 winners to just 11 unforced.
And at the net, would you believe Nadal finished 16 for 16? At some point over the year I heard one of the talking heads on TV declare Nadal the best volleyer in the game. Well, there’s the proof to back that statement up.
Great numbers from Rafa.
“I think I played the right match, the match that I have to play,” Nadal said. “I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal, no? To try to have long rallies, to try to have long points, because he will try to play short.
“The first set was important for me, of course, after a lot of games that he had chances to lose the serve. He was holding, and finally he missed that forehand with the 3-All. That changed the rest of the match, because if you get to 5-All in the first set or tiebreak, playing against a big server like him, you are in trouble, no? But having that break before and keep going and convert the set, first set was so important for me.”
Meanwhile, Anderson, who was supposed to have the lethal serve, struggled on his own winning just 73% on first and a paltry 36% on second. And he had 32 winners to 40 unforced.
“Rafa made it very difficult for me tonight,” said Anderson. “I felt he got a lot of returns back. He varied his return position quite a lot. You know, one of the best defenders in our sport.
“I felt while I was getting a few free points, definitely less than normal, which I expected, I think it was really important that ball after the serve, and there was a lot of times I executed it well but there were a few times I didn’t, and that ended up costing me quite a bit against him.
“I felt he served really well. I sort of struggled a little bit adapting to the left-handed serve, and, you know, didn’t even get a break point throughout the whole match. It was definitely difficult, and I think he had a pretty good read on my serve, and he was getting my serve games and he was holding quite comfortably.”
For Anderson, who moves from No. 32 to 15 in the rankings, he probably won’t get back to a Slam final again. But unlike a lot of players, he got there. So full credit to Kevin for a great week of tennis and for a career event. If nothing else, even though he’s 31, he should be more of a factor going forward especially in Masters events where he’s struggled. But he too was a beneficiary of the absence of many of the top names. But he too took advantage while 126 players didn’t.
“Obviously very pleased of making my way through to the finals and having that experience,” Anderson said. “I mean, a few players, get that chance. It’s very tough. To step out on court against Rafa tonight, I learned a lot of lessons. It was a difficult match, up against somebody who has been on that stage over 20 times before.
“Definitely a few things I needed to have done better. Obviously I had my work cut out for me, but I think overall, obviously it’s been, you know, a very, very positive two weeks for me.”
Other than a bunch of missed break chances early in the first, it was near-flawless tennis from Nadal who moves to 5-0 against the South African.
The title was Rafa’s first on a hardcourt since 2014 Doha, snapping an 8-match losing streak in finals on his least favorite surface.
And the win also puts added distance between him and Roger Federer for the year-end No. 1 ranking. Federer can still make up the 1,800 or so point gap, but he’ll have to be almost perfect.
As for the draw, sure Nadal was gifted without having to face anyone in the Top 25. But, unlike just about everyone else – including Federer – he was the healthy one, he showed up and he took advantage.
Had Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and had Federer been 100% healthy, then who knows. But part of playing on the tour is being healthy. And Nadal’s had numerous health issues of his own, so this time he was on the other end.
Rafa also keeps the heat on Federer in the all-time Slam title race. He started the year three behind and going into 2018 he’ll also be three behind, 19 to 16.
“Well done for Roger that he is having an amazing season too and well done for me because I’m having a great season too,” said Nadal. “Let’s see what happens until the season and that’s it. The rest of the things — tennis is not all the Grand Slams, so there is tournaments to come and I’m excited about this last part of the season.”
Quite amazing that Nadal’s won two this year after coming up empty in 2015 and 2016.
“Of course after couple of years without competing at this very high, high level, very happy to be back and emotional year for you, and as I said before, no, just can say thanks to all the people that helps me every day,” Nadal said. “I have a great team and a great family that supports me and believe in me, and that’s a great help. Without them, of course is not impossible but almost.”
But next year he’ll be without Uncle Toni who was coaching for a final time at a Slam this week. Moya, though, has proven a worthy replacement so I don’t expect any letdown next season. Why would you from Rafa?
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