Sweet 16 for ruthless Rafa
Three months on from winning la decima at Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal secured his 16th Grand Slam with a comprehensive straight-sets defeat of Kevin Anderson in the final of the US Open. His first Slam on hard courts since four years and the 2013 US Open.
At the start of 2017 few would have predicted that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – both the wrong side of 30 – would share the season’s four Grand Slam titles between them. The Swiss defied expectations by winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, while “Rafa” conquered Roland-Garros – his home from home – for a tenth time and then snared the US Open crown for “only” the third time on the hardcourt of Flushing Meadows on Sunday afternoon. The man from Mallorca did so in impressive style, capping a superb fortnight and showing that he has taken his all-round game up yet another notch, all this at the age of 31, all this after winning everything there is to win, and all this after a wrist injury that other players might have deemed career-ending.
Nadal’s defeat of Anderson was more than just a logical reflection of their world rankings or the understandable nerves the South African would have felt in his first Grand Slam final. Perhaps the joy the world No32 experienced on beating Pablo Carreño-Busta to become the lowest-ranked player to reach a Grand Slam final since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open caused him to lose his intensity. The stats seem to suggest that: 40 unforced errors and a mere 10 aces, a reflection of his misfiring serve on the day.
First title on hard courts since 2014... but what a title!
There was, of course, more to the Spaniard’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win than that. As he always does, Nadal showed the utmost respect for his opponent. Though he had beaten him four times previously in as many meetings, Nadal knew how dangerous Anderson was. In a US Open full of surprises, the South African had seized every chance that had come his way in a wide-open bottom half of the draw. Hence Nadal’s extreme focus at the beginning of the match. An occasional slow starter, he was sharpness personified from the opening point, pressuring Anderson’s serve at every opportunity and refusing to concede him any openings on his own serve, which remained every bit as effective as it had been since the start of the tournament.
That serve is a weapon he has upgraded for hardcourt, a surface on which he had gone 34 tournaments without winning a title. Winning a remarkable 84% of his first-serve points and 70% of his second, Nadal did not concede a single break point to the South African. For good measure, he won a sparkling 16 out 16 points at the net, proof of his ceaseless ability to fine tune his game and take it to an even higher standard. This was not a victory handed to him by Anderson; it was one he went out and claimed, from the first point to the very last: a magnificent serve and volley.
"There’s no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me, after a very emotional season in all aspects"
“A great two weeks,” said the new US Open champion. “Increasing level of tennis, increasing level of confidence during the two weeks. Again to have this trophy here with me in New York means a lot to me. There’s no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me, after a very emotional season in all aspects. So I’m very happy with the way that I played, happy with the way that I managed the pressure, and very happy with the way that I was competing during the whole event. Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit was there in a very positive way all the time.”
With Grand Slam No16 now secured, Nadal is hot on the heels of his rival Roger Federer once more. A duel that looked moribund not so very long ago has sprung back into life, to the delight of tennis lovers everywhere. “They’ve played each other so many times,” said Anderson. “Looking at Rafa: just such a great competitor. He really makes you earn every single point. And Roger also. He can really take matches out of your hands. It’s been a very interesting year on the Grand Slam front, and certainly it’ll be very interesting to see what happens next year as well.”
2005 - 2017: a decima for "Rafa"