Kevin Anderson

Rafael Nadal claims 16th Grand Slam title by winning U.S. Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — Rafael Nadal against Kevin Anderson in the U.S. Open final shaped up as quite a mismatch — and that’s exactly what it was.

His game at a high level at the end of an unusually easy path through a Grand Slam field, Nadal overwhelmed first-time major finalist Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win his third championship at Flushing Meadows.

It is the No. 1-ranked Nadal’s second Grand Slam title of the year and 16th overall. Among men, only longtime rival Roger Federer has more, with 19.

At No. 32, Anderson was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open men’s finalist since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973. The 31-year-old South African never had been past the quarterfinals at any major tournament in 33 previous appearances, so when he won his semifinal on Friday, he climbed into the stands to celebrate.

There would be no such joy for him on this day. Nadal simply dominated every facet of the 2½-hour final.

Nadal added to his U.S. Open triumphs in 2010 and 2013 and improved to 16-7 in Grand Slam finals. For the first time since 2013, he appeared in three in a single season, losing to Federer at the Australian Open in January, then beating Stan Wawrinka for his record 10th French Open trophy in June.

Nadal’s career haul also includes two trophies from Wimbledon and one from the Australian Open. All of his big victories have come while being coached by his uncle, Toni, who is now stepping aside. The U.S. Open was the last Grand Slam event of their partnership.

Not since Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2000 had a man won a Slam tournament without facing any opponents ranked in the top 20.

In New York this time, the bracket was weakened by the injury withdrawals of three of the top five men: past champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka.

Plus, Nadal did not need to deal with Federer: The potential for a semifinal, which would have been their first U.S. Open meeting, was dashed when Juan Martin del Potro eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals. Nadal then beat del Potro, the 2009 champion but now ranked 28th, in the semis.

Much like Nadal’s 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 win against Wawrinka at Roland Garros, the only beauty of this match was not in its competitiveness — not by a long shot — but in an appreciation for one participant’s absolute superiority.

Forehands whipped up the line. Two-handed backhands ripped cross-court with ferocity. The spinning, back-to-the-net returns of serves that darted in at him at more than 130 mph (210 kph) and helped him break Anderson four times.

He even came up with some terrific volleys, winning the point on all 16 of his trips to the net. Anderson, meanwhile, finished 16 for 34 in that category. Another difference-maker: Nadal never faced a break point, although that was more a reflection of his talent once the ball was in play than any particularly dominant serving.

With Nadal standing way back to receive serves, nearly backing into the line judges, he neutralized Anderson’s most effective skill. Anderson came in having won 103 of 108 service games across six matches, but Nadal accumulated break points at will from the get-go — two in a six-deuce game at 1-all, another two in a five-deuce game at 2-all.

Anderson began trying to end points quickly with a volley. Two problems with that: Anderson is not usually a serve-and-volleyer and so is no expert at that tactic; Nadal is superb at summoning passing shots at extreme speeds and angles, especially when facing the sort of target provided by the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, the tallest Grand Slam finalist in history.

It was only a matter of time until Nadal capitalized on a chance. Anderson let him do just that at 3-all, 30-all, double-faulting to offer up Nadal’s fifth break point of the match, then badly pushing a cross-court forehand wide.

That only made the score 4-3, but the statistics until then were telling: Anderson had 21 unforced errors, Nadal just four. A pattern had been established. When Nadal broke to lead 4-2 in the second set, that was pretty much that.

As the 2017 Grand Slam season wrapped up, it marked a return to the heights of their sport for Nadal and Federer: Each won two of the four major titles.

Not only didn’t Nadal win one in 2015 or 2016 — his first such shutouts since 2004, when he was still a teenager — but he didn’t even make it to a major final in that span. Seems safe to say that, at age 31, he is once again the Nadal of old.

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Rafael Nadal powers into U.S. Open final

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal is one win from capping a career-turnaround season with a 16th Grand Slam title, following one of the most magnificent hours of hard-court tennis of his life.

Nadal, after dropping the first set, reeled off nine straight games en route to beating Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 in the U.S. Open semifinals on Friday night.

The Spaniard is an overwhelming favorite Sunday against South African Kevin Anderson, the lowest-ranked man (No. 32) to make a U.S. Open final since rankings were introduced in 1973.

Nadal’s play was exquisite those last three sets against Del Potro, a player so dangerous that his forehand is now associated with Thor’s Hammer.

He neutralized the tall Argentine’s power, silenced an Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd spotted with Albiceleste jerseys and moved like we’re accustomed to seeing on clay courts.

Nadal eyes his third U.S. Open title and first since 2013, when he was the world’s best player. He returned to No. 1 this season, after a dip in 2015 and 2016, when he won zero Grand Slams and dropped to No. 10 in the rankings.

“Some troubles, injuries, tough moments,” Nadal said on court after his win Friday. “This year since the beginning has been a very emotional year.”

The comeback began in January. Nadal should have won the Australian Open but squandered a fifth-set lead in the final to longtime rival Roger Federer.

Nadal bagged his most coveted crown, a 10th French Open in June, and regained the No. 1 ranking last month. But he came to New York without a hard-court title since January 2014.

As incredible as Nadal has played here, the draw parted like the Red Sea for him. Past champions Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka withdrew before the tournament. Del Potro, who beat Nadal in an epic Rio Olympic semifinal, knocked out Federer in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

If Nadal lifts the trophy on Sunday, he will have done it without having faced a single top-25 player. Never before has a man or woman won a U.S. Open without facing a player ranked outside the top 10.

Anderson, who is 31 years old and 6-foot-8, beat Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in an earlier semifinal Friday. He is 0-4 against Nadal.

In the women’s final on Saturday (4 p.m. ET), Madison Keys meets Sloane Stephens in the first all-American matchup since Venus and Serena Williams in 2002.

Keys, 22, and Stephens, 24, are both first-time Grand Slam finalists. One will become the first American woman other than Venus and Serena to win a Slam since Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 Australian Open.

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