Following days of uncertainty and with the removal of a series of favourites, the men’s US Open final will feature the world number one Rafa Nadal and Kevin Anderson, the 28th seed and world number 32. On the face of it Nadal should be collecting his third title at Flushing Meadows late on Sunday but in view of the various twists and turns which have taken place the past 11 days, that is not inevitable.
He had the game today to win, to beat me, and to win the tournament. I think he's playing much better. He's improved his backhand and he serves good. He's the number one of the world. He's winning many tournaments this year Juan Martin del Potro
Nadal, who recovered from a set down for the third time at the last major of the season, beat Juan Martin del Potro, Roger Federer’s conqueror in the previous round, 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-2, has never lost to Anderson but realises the occasion brings a different complexion to Sunday’s final where the South African has nothing to lose.
“He’s a huge player with an unbelievable serve,” the 31-year-old Spaniard admitted. “He plays unbelievable on this surface. He’s able to play his best tennis in his career right now.
“It’s going to be a tough one. I need to be playing at my best. I need to play at full energy and full motivation if I’m going to have my chances.”
Meanwhile the big Argentine affectionately known as DelPo, was not happy with his performance after dominating the first set.
Having won the US title eight years ago by defeating Nadal and Federer in consecutive matches, Del Potro was on the verge of emulating that feat of 2009. However, his efforts in defeating Dominic Thiem from two sets down and then his four-set major upset of the Swiss, obviously drained him of energy.
“To be honest, I’m angry to lose a chance like this, but maybe tomorrow, after tomorrow, I will be calm and see how big the tournament was for me,” he said following his loss.
He broke the Nadal serve only once – in the fifth game of the opening set – and even that was off a fortunate net cord.
“I think I never had control of the match. I was lucky to break his serve with the net point,” he admitted. “When you don’t have that confidence to play three, four hours with a good backhand against Rafa, is just a matter of time to get down your game.
“But also he improved very much his game after the second set, and his balls came too fast from both sides. He deserved to win, for sure.”
DelPo added: “I was exhausted after the Thiem match, the Roger match. I had flu during the week. So I had many problems before this match, but I was very motivated to play the semi-final. I gave all my effort to survive this match, but I couldn’t do well.”
Nadal was relatively happy with his own performance on reaching his third grand slam final of the year. Victory on Sunday would mean that the two players who basically absented themselves from the tour for six months last year for injury reasons, returned to share the four majors of the 2017 season!
And Nadal admitted, when commenting on his achievement, that it meant: “A lot. It has been an amazing season after a couple of years with some troubles, injuries, tough moments.
“This year, since the beginning, has been an emotional year. It means everything for me to be back here in front of this crowd and playing for the US Open title.”
Nadal won his 10th French Open and 15th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros after losing to Federer in the Australian Open final.
“It’s almost impossible but here we are,” Nadal said. “I do a lot of good work with my team. We believe in what we are doing. I still have the passion and the love for this game.”
And Del Potro believes the Spaniard will go to collect his third US Open title.
“He had the game today to win, to beat me, and to win the tournament,” the 28-year-old Argentine predicted.
“I think he’s playing much better. He’s improved his backhand and he serves good. He’s the number one of the world. He’s winning many tournaments this year.”
The only player able to deny him that is Anderson who also battled back from a set down to take out the higher seeded Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 to reach his first grand slam final and become the first South African to reach a US final in over 30 years. The last South African to make a grand slam final was Kevin Curren in Australia in 1984. Curren also made the Wimbledon final the following year but as a US citizen.
Anderson is also the lowest ranked player to reach a grand slam final since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made the Australian Open title-round in 2008 as world number 38.
It was no surprise therefore, to see the 6’8” Anderson climbing into the players’ box to hug his wife and supporting team having broken through what has been a great barrier.
“I don’t know if the team hug is appropriate before the final but it felt like the right thing to do,” Anderson told the crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. “It’s been a long road.”
He hit 14 unforced errors including a backhand that sailed long to hand the composed Carreno Busta a rare break to go up 4-3 in the first set which allowed the Spaniard to take a one set lead.
Anderson settled to level and then his more powerful game paid dividends as he wore out his opponent who had not dropped a set throughout the event.
“I definitely felt as the match progressed, I felt more and more comfortable,” Anderson admitted. “I was able to go after my shots more. I was able to control the court a bit more, not let him dictate so much. Definitely started making a lot more returns.”
For Carreno Busta it was his best performance at a grand slam. “I think that I have to take a lot of positive things from this tournament, because I won a lot of matches,” he said. “He was playing with confidence, was very good and he was more aggressive than me. Congrats to him, because we played a very good match.”