Nadal outclasses Anderson to win 16th Grand Slam at US Open

Rafael Nadal outclassed Kevin Anderson in the US Open final, claiming his 16th grand slam title with a three-set win.

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, reacts after beating Kevin Anderson, of South Africa, to win the men's singles final of the U.S. Open.   -  AP

A great tennis champion had begun to fade, we said. It was the twilight of his career, we insisted. Here’s an argument for your barstool this weekend, we quipped: he may never win a Grand Slam title again. Discuss. 

When his performance slumped in the years between 2014 and 2016, we punished him. Not by neglecting him, but by increasingly focusing on him; often reasoning that someone like him should not and cannot age. We punished him with our collective nostalgia and condescension.

And yet, there he was. On the final point of Sunday’s US Open final, Rafael Nadal was waiting to unleash his serve. He was leading 5-4 in the third set and had won the previous two sets. The possibility of him losing the match did not exist. Well, unless he was playing Juan Martin del Potro.

READ: Nadal's tribute to uncle Toni; Anderson's top-10 goal

He would bounce the ball five times, then get interrupted twice by someone letting out an ear-piercing Rafaaaaaa! The ones who were too busy to sshh the intruder had their iPhones out; flashbulbs were going off. Their beloved champion was winning here after four years. How could we not record this moment?

Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win produced tennis of such perfection that it starved his opponent Kevin Anderson’s emotional momentum of all fuel. Such was Nadal’s mastership and command that he offered no break points at all. Anderson, on the other hand, had to fight off 12 deuces and save four break points just to win his first three service games.

Nadal got to Anderson in the seventh game of the first set, succeeding on his fifth break point. Anderson committed a double fault to set up Nadal’s advantage, then he pulled a forehand wide to fall behind 4-3. The nerves got to the 28th seed in quick fashion after that — it was the biggest moment of his career, but the man on the other side had him at hello. 

Anderson used his serve — the most glittering weapon in his arsenal — to try and unnerve his opponent. It worked a few times, but Nadal had it figured out. He was standing nearly 10 metres behind the baseline — almost one with the line umpires — and had a way of grabbing a ball that seemed already behind him and flinging it back with even more force. 

Anderson’s movement around the court was suspect and his attempts at volleying did not yield results. Nadal exploited this to the maximum advantage, grinding out points with a methodical relentlessness, and winning with such regularity. 

The second set followed a similar pattern and Nadal broke through with some deft volleying to lead 4-2. Most surprisingly, Nadal won all 16 points he finished at the net, including a stylish serve-and-volley on championship point.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

Nadal [1] bt Anderson [28] 6-3 6-3 6-4

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Nadal - 30/11

Anderson - 32/40

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Nadal - 1/1

Anderson - 10/4

BREAK POINTS WON

Nadal - 4/9

Anderson - 0/0

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE

Nadal - 63

Anderson - 59

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE

Nadal - 84/70

Anderson - 73/36

TOTAL POINTS

Nadal - 102

Anderson - 78

 

More stats

Nadal’s leaping forehand is arguably one of the most violent-looking shots in tennis and it was on full-throttle on Sunday. Anderson, who is also a big-hitter himself, looked meek in comparison and a wild forehand shot on break point during the start of the third set only sealed this further for the Spaniard. Two hours and 27 minutes later, the crowd was treated to what it was waiting for — Nadal biting the champion’s trophy. 

At his press conference, Nadal wore a white T-shirt listing the date and site of each one of his 16 Grand Slam titles — just three shy of his celebrated rival. It is impossible to describe his journey without indulging in cliches: he is one of the most tenacious, persistent and hard-working athletes in the world.

Soon, someone else will push him to the brink — as few in the ‘Next Gen’ cohort have done so many times this year already — and he might not return. Soon, someone else. There will always be someone else. 

But for now, there is only Rafael Nadal.