NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal lived up to his reputation as the world No. 1 player and champion for the ages when he picked up his 16th career Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Nadal was never in danger during his 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over the 28th-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the 2-hour, 27-minute match, The Spaniard now stands at 16-7 in Grand Slam finals, and this marks the fourth time in his career he’s taken home at least two Grand Slam trophies in a season.
Fists clenched and arms extended in the air flashing his muscles, Nadal beamed a huge smile in victory.
“Of course, very special two weeks for me,” Nadal said. “Personally it’s just unbelievable what happened this year to me after a few years troubles, injuries, and not playing good. ... This is one of events that brings me to high energy, the crowd here make me so, so happy.”
And typical of his personality to worry about others, Nadal used the award ceremony to send his best wishes to those who have suffered from the earthquake in Mexico and from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, saying, “All the best to the victims. ... We can't control what is happening.”
Nadal made it three U.S. Open titles in his treasure chest with the others picked up during final defeats of Novak Djokovic in 2010 and ’13.
When Nadal won the Open in 2010 as a 24-year-old, he became the youngest man in the Open era to complete a career Grand Slam in having won at least one title from each of the majors.
Having missed out on much of the second half of last season nursing a wrist injury, the 31-year-old Nadal’s been breathtaking this season, claiming two of the four Grand Slam titles. He won a 10th French Open title in June to become the only man or woman in the Open era to score 10 titles at the same Grand Slam.
Prior to this U.S. Open, Nadal hadn’t won a hard court title since the 2014 tournament in Doha, Qatar, which is always played the first week of each season.
Surprisingly, it was 36-year-old Roger Federer who captured the other two majors this season — the Australian Open with a five-set win over Nadal, who initially was up a break in the final set, and at Wimbledon. Federer, with a men’s record 19 Grand Slam trophies, missed the entire last six months of 2016 recuperating from a knee injury.
Not to take anything away from Anderson, the first South African to reach a U.S. Open final in the Open era, but expectations weren’t very high for him to pull out an upset. This was the fifth time he’s played Nadal, and he’s only ever won one set in their meetings.
Nadal was able to exploit Anderson’s weaknesses. While Anderson can boast a huge serve — he posted 10 aces to one for Nadal — his movement around the court is suspect and he’s not skilled at volleying.
Anderson, at No. 32 in the world, was the lowest ranked U.S. Open finalist since rankings began in 1973. He tends to be a player who lacks patience on the court, which resulted in his having 40 unforced errors to only 11 for Nadal. For his part, Nadal was often content to let Anderson sabotage himself, but knew the appropriate time to take control of the points.
But even more important was that Nadal continued to serve confidently as he had through most of the tournament. He never faced a break point in the match, and he also won all 16 points he played at the net. Many don’t think of Nadal on offense, moving forward, but he’s actually one of the great volleyers in the game.
Nadal returned to the No. 1 ranking on Aug. 21 for the fourth time in his career and will continue to hold onto the spot to increase his overall total of 144 weeks at the top.
Only three men in history — Nadal, Pete Sampras and Ken Rosewall — have won Grand Slam titles in their teens, 20s and 30s.
For those who might not believe that players are showing their muscles later into their careers, the last five Grand Slam champions have been 30 and over going back to Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, who recently underwent knee surgery and didn’t show up in New York to defend his title.
In Grand Slam finals this year, players over 30 were featured seven times, with only the 29-year-old Marin Cilic at Wimbledon not old enough to join Nadal, Federer, Wawrinka and Anderson in that category.