Rafael Nadal coasted to a three-set victory (6-3, 6-3, 6-4) over Kevin Anderson to win the U.S. Open title Sept. 10. It was Nadal’s second major win of the year after his French Open victory in June and the Spaniard’s 16th major win overall.
Nadal has turned around his career magnificently this year. Entering 2017 as the No. 9 overall player in the world and without a major victory in two years, it looked as though the “King of Clay” was past his prime. A series of knee, back and wrist injuries, combined with a sheer drop in performance form, looked to be the end of the explosive Nadal that fans had come to adore.
However, Nadal has recovered this year in remarkable fashion. During the U.S. Open, he lost a total of three sets. Not only did Nadal dominate his way to the championship, he made it look easy. Nadal did not face a single break point during the entirety of the championship match.
No. 32 Kevin Anderson, who was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since 1973, simply couldn’t match Nadal’s high level of play. The South African had never been past the quarterfinals prior to this year’s run, making this a remarkable success for Anderson despite his defeat in the final match.
Nadal ripped forehands and backhands with his trademark ferocity, while demonstrating tremendous poise when coming to the net. Nadal was perfect at the net, winning all 16 of his attempts. By comparison, Anderson won less than 50 percent (16 for 34) of his points at the net.
Anderson’s best skill was his serve, traveling upwards of 130 mph. However, Nadal’s decision to sit far behind the service line to give himself more time to react effectively neutralized that part of Anderson’s game. Prior to Anderson’s match against Nadal, Anderson had only lost five service games in the tournament. Nadal broke Anderson’s serve four times in the tournament final.
The match’s turning point came in the middle of the second set. Nadal broke Anderson to make the score 4-2, effectively securing a two-set lead for Nadal. From there, Anderson’s confidence and demeanor simply wasn’t the same. Anderson went on to have 21 unforced errors while Nadal only had four.
“[It’s been a] very special two weeks for me,” Nadal said, according to an ESPN recap of the event. “It’s unbelievable what happened this year after [the past] couple years with some problems and injuries.”
Anderson complimented Nadal’s return to form.
“I mean, I’ve always said he’s one of the, obviously, greatest players of our sport, obviously feeling very confident,” Anderson said. “[Nadal] seems to have turned around a lot of those injuries he’s experienced the last couple of years.”
With the conclusion of this match, Nadal (9465 points) strengthens his point lead over Roger Federer (7505 points) for the overall No. 1 position in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings, an impressive rise from No. 9 at the beginning of 2017.
Anderson can still hold his head high after making it into the final, the first South African to make it to the U.S. Open final since Cliff Drysdale in 1965.
Nadal will look to carry this form into the next year and to avoid injuries. Now at 16 major titles, he will continue to chase Roger Federer’s record 19 grand slam titles.