Rafael Nadal def Kevin Anderson 63 63 64
Rafael Nadal’s patience and precision defined his 16th career Grand Slam Final victory. It was a near flawless performance. Nadal never faced a break point, earned four breaks in nine opportunities, was a perfect 16 for 16 at the net, and gave up only 11 unforced errors compared to Anderson’s 40. In just 2-hours and 27-minutes, he made the term “very high level of tennis” sound like an audacious understatement.
From ball-up, Kevin Anderson – competing in his first Major Final – was forced to work. He needed four game points just to hold before the first changeover. Despite 10 Anderson aces, Rafa’s return game was exemplary, regularly forcing the over sized South African to play extra points at deuce. Rafa finally earned his first break before the third sit-down, then broke again to take the set. By the end of set-1, Anderson’s unforced error count was up to 23.
In the second, Nadal broke to go up 4-2, then won his next two service games to stretch the lead. By the third, he was firmly in control. Nadal broke again to start the set, and comfortably served-out the match. While Kevin respectfully held the rest of the way, each point on his racquet became an epic battle.
In a word, Rafa was “unbeatable.” Oddly enough, Nadal’s dominance made me think of a Final where I’d seen Rafa in Kevin’s situation, versus Novak Djokovic in the 2016 Doha Final. Sometimes, no matter how hard you battle, an opponent’s destiny outweighs your effort.
The Mallorcan’s 16th Major
Rafael Nadal is now a 16-time Grand Slam and 3-time US Open Champion. He and the sport’s other elder statesman, Roger Federer, have now swept the Majors in 2017. Remarkably, it was Nadal’s third Grand Slam Final of the year and 23rd of his career. For the first time, he faced someone other than Novak Djokovic in the US Open Final. Victorious in 2010 and 2013, he fell to Novak in the 2011 Final. Incredibly – though it appeared they were on a Semifinal collision course – Nadal has never faced Roger Federer at the US Open. For the second time, Juan Martin del Potro made sure of that.
Capitalizing on opportunity
There’s no doubt, Rafa benefited from a depleted draw at the sport’s final Major. Andy Murray. Novak Djokovic. Stan Wawrinka. Kei Nishoikori. Milos Raonic. Prior to the start of the Open, five of the sport’s top-11 players were absent from the field. That doesn’t diminish the accomplishment. After all, a few of those mentioned certainly benefited from Rafa’s absence in 2012 (Andy Murray Champion) and 2014 (Marin Cilic Champion), when the World #1 dealt with knee and wrist injuries. Accomplishment in the sport of tennis is more than just grinding out wins on court, it’s staying healthy enough to compete, putting yourself in position to win.
Right place right time
Just ask Kevin Anderson, who at 31-years-old, played seven matches at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. If you had told Kevin in January that he would become a Grand Slam Finalist in Flushing, he and his wife would have had you committed. Injuries delayed the start of his season. When he returned, he made 4th-Round runs at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, then reached his 12th career Final in Washington D.C. Kevin gained momentum while many of the sport’s top players tossed in the towel to recover from the physical grind. Unexpected opportunity. Rightfully, he took full advantage.
Circumstance and “consistency when it counts” can create career defining moments.