Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson will be going head-to-head for the fifth time in their careers when they battle for the U.S. Open title on Sunday.
All four of their previous encounters have gone Nadal’s way, and he is 3-0 against Anderson on hard courts. The Spaniard is a commanding 9-1 in total sets, dropping only one in a 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 victory at the Paris Masters in 2015. Their only Grand Slam showdown came at the 2015 Australian Open, where Nadal cruised 7-5, 6-1, 6-4. A similarly straightforward affair was the result when the two veterans most recently collided on the red clay of Barcelona this spring, with the current world No. 1 getting the job done 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal and Anderson also faced each other way back at the 1998 Under 12 Junior Masters in Stuttgart, Germany. Prior to their Barcelona contest, Anderson’s wife posted this gem on Twitter.
— Kelsey Anderson (@KelseyOAnderson) April 27, 2017
Almost 20 years later, Nadal is still going strong at 31 years old. In fact, that is an understatement. He is turning in one of his best-ever seasons, with three major final appearances–including this one–and a 10th title at the French Open. Nadal is well on his way to the year-end No. 1 ranking especially if he triumphs on Sunday. Although the 15-time slam champion predictably cooled off after leaving Roland Garros, he is back on track this fortnight with mostly routine defeats of Dusan Lajovic, Taro Daniel, Leonardo Mayer, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andrey Rublev, and Juan Martin Del Potro.
Anderson has also avoided any five-set drama while taking out J.C. Aragone, Ernests Gulbis, Borna Coric, Paolo Lorenzi, Sam Querrey, and Pablo Carreno Busta. The 32nd-ranked South African did not lose serve a single time through three rounds before getting broken twice by Lorenzi, once by Querrey, and twice by Carreno Busta. This is Anderson’s first-ever appearance in a major final and he had never previously advanced to a semifinal.
“He’s a huge player with an unbelievable serve,” Nadal said of his upcoming adversary. “He had some injuries, so he’s a big example for the kids and for the rest of the tour; he was able to be back and play his best tennis now. I’m happy for him, because I’ve known him since we were 12 years old. It’s great to see him in the final of one of the most important tournaments of the year.”
“Nadal is one of the greatest competitors in sports, period,” Anderson commented. “He’s an amazing fighter. He really controls the court well. I really need to be dominant and control proceedings as much as possible because if you let him do it, it’s very difficult.”
Nobody this fortnight has been able to produce a potent enough combination of offense and consistency to trouble Nadal for more than a set. Anderson has the kind of game that can do it, but he too has never been able to accomplish the feat. It is an especially difficult task, of course, in a Grand Slam championship match.
Nadal, who has been in this situation on 22 previous occasions, should have slam title No. 16 coming his way.
Pick: Nadal in 3