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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Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach