The final of the men’s US Open proved to be a one-sided affair as Kevin Anderson, the underdog ranked 32, found his major weapons, his serve and forehand, were quickly blunted by a man on a mission, Rafa Nadal.
It was definitely difficult. He had a pretty good read on my serve, and he was getting my serve games and he was holding quite comfortably. It was more the conundrum of playing Rafa as opposed to being in my first final Kevin Anderson
In what was an extraordinary performance, Nadal contained the big serving Anderson from the first moments of the final as the 6’8” South African, the tallest finalist at Flushing Meadows in the Open era, tried to mix things up with an aggressive serve and volley approach, only to be broken twice and then watching Nadal lock up the 58-minute set with an exquisite disdainful backhand drop volley winner.
Nadal was all over the court, retrieving, full of energy as he kept Anderson guessing with his own serving, especially the wide swinging one which on the occasion it was returned was usually swept away cross court well out of his opponent’s reach.
Anderson was broken again in the sixth game of the second set and subsequently Nadal pulled ahead with a forehand crosscourt winner and wasted no time to break the now despairing Florida based Springbok in the opening game of the third forcing him into a forehand error on break point, finally closing out the match with another of his swinging serves to set up the opportunity to hammer away the backhand volley winner.
The 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory in what was the seventh time in the Open era a grand slam final had been contested by two players over 30, earned Nadal his third US Open crown and increased his career grand slam tally to 16, three behind his arch-rival Roger Federer.
While it was very much Nadal’s day, Anderson did prevent it being an embarrassment by keeping the 31-year-old Spaniard on his toes throughout the 2-hour 27-minute contest despite his 40 unforced errors to Nadal’s 11.
What is intriguing is that despite having one of the fiercest serves on the ATP Tour, Anderson delivered just 10 aces and was unable to pierce the defences of the world number one who, standing well back, returned the series of bazooka missiles hurled down at him. In contrast, Anderson was never able to get to grips with the Nadal serve, and was unable to create any break points in what was his first appearance in a grand slam final.
“It was definitely difficult. He had a pretty good read on my serve, and he was getting my serve games and he was holding quite comfortably. It was more the conundrum of playing Rafa as opposed to being in my first final,” Anderson admitted. “His competitiveness, consistency at that level. He never goes away.”
Federer and Nadal took time off last year to regenerate their bodies from injuries and currently Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are doing the same by absenting themselves for the rest of this season, which brings up the possibility of the Big Four firing on all fronts in 2018.
“After them taking off most of last year to come back, winning all four grand slams was quite an achievement, regardless of how good they are,” said Anderson, who is also 31.
“Looking at Rafa, just such a great competitor. He really makes you earn every single point. Roger, also. So it’s been a very interesting year on the grand slam front. It will certainly be very interesting to see what happens next year.”
“In terms of results, this has been one of the best seasons of my career, of course,” Nadal admitted after collecting his second grand slam in a season for the fourth time in his career.
And it could have been better as he came close in Australia where he lost in the final to his Swiss arch-rival.
Nadal continued: “I have been winning titles, playing three finals of Grand Slams, so that’s a lot. That’s so difficult. The other slam [Wimbledon] that I was not in the final, I lost the match 15-13 in the fifth to be in the quarterfinals. So was very competitive year for me. And on clay, I won almost every match. Of course is an emotional season because I have been through tough moments in terms of injuries.”
And 2016 epitomised just that. Nadal lost in the first round in Melbourne, withdrew after two rounds at Roland Garros with a wrist problem, skipped Wimbledon and exited Flushing in round four.
At the start of the year Nadal was ranked 9 and Federer 16 but when the new rankings are announced this week, Nadal will be at the top of the list with Federer in second place for the first time since 2011.
“I was surprised in January. Now I am not that much surprised,” said Nadal. “There are things that probably Roger and me share — that is passion for what we are doing, passion for tennis, passion for the competition and the spirit of improvement all the time.”
On accepting the trophy and a cheque for $3.7 million, Nadal said: “I want to thank everyone for supporting me. I can just say thank you very much to life for that opportunity.”
Nadal also paid tribute to his family and his team especially his uncle Toni who was making his last appearance as his coach at a grand slam to run his nephew’s tennis academy in Mallorca next year. “I can’t thank him enough for all the things he did for me,” Nadal said. “Without him, I would never be playing tennis.”
He also spoke for the victims and all the people who were suffering from the earthquake in Mexico and the hurricanes in the Caribbean in Florida.