Seven years ago, the U.S. Open was the final piece of the puzzle that Rafael Nadal needed to complete the career Grand Slam. Some wondered if he would ever do it. Once at most, right? Maybe two if lucky?
How about three?
Nadal triumphed in New York for the third time on Sunday, lifting the trophy once again thanks to a commanding 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kevin Anderson. The Spaniard did not face a single break point while rolling to his 16th slam title in two hours and 27 minutes. Nadal used unusually effective and deep returns to break Anderson four times and he almost kept up with the 6’8” South African in the department of winners (32 to 30 in Anderson’s favor). The top seed also committed a mere 11 unforced errors, whereas 40 mistakes came off the world No. 32’s racket.
“(It has) been a great two weeks,” Nadal reflected, “increasing (my) level of tennis, increasing [in] 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.
“(I’m) 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.”
Nadal’s only real trouble throughout the duration of the fortnight came in the form of slow starts in week one–most notably against Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer. He also surrendered the first set to Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals, although that was less surprising.
But there was no such struggle in the championship match. Nadal stormed out of the gates in blistering fashion, pushing Anderson to deuce in all five of his first-set return games while managing to break at 3-3 and 5-3. A break at 3-2 in the second and another one to begin the third were easily enough for Nadal to soar across the finish line.
“I think I played the right match,” the champion explained. “I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal–to try to have long rallies, to try to have long points, because he will try to play short (ones). If the ball is going over the net couple of times helps, because he gets more tired. He’s taller. His movements are a little bit worse than my ones. That was the goal for me, to take advantage and try to move him.”
If Nadal had an edge in movement, he enjoyed an ever more significant advantage in experience. It was his 23rd major final, whereas Anderson was competing in his first. The underdog had previously advanced to just one Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“Obviously (I’m) very pleased of making my way through to the finals and having that experience,” Anderson commented. “(Only) a few players get that chance. It’s very tough. To step out on court against Rafa, I learned a lot of lessons. It was a difficult match, up against somebody who has been on that stage over 20 times before.”
From the looks of things, make that 23 times and counting.