Rafael Nadal Wins His 16th Grand Slam Title With Straight Sets Victory Over Kevin Anderson

The finish line loomed as clearly as the baseline.

Rafael Nadal flew through it with a final forward flourish.

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Slashing through a serve-and-volley on championship point, a ruthless Nadal outclassed Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 surging to his third career US Open title in a dominating display that solidified his status as the favorite to finish as year-end No. 1 for the fourth time.

“Very happy, been a great two weeks,” Nadal said. “Increasing level of tennis, increasing of confidence during that two weeks. Yeah, I have this trophy with me again here in New York. Means a lot to me, no? There is no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me after a very emotional season in all aspects.

“So very happy the way that I played, happy the way that I managed the pressure, and the way that I was competing during the whole event, no? Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit have been there in a very positive way all the time.”

It is Nadal’s sweet 16th career Grand Slam championship, second only to Roger Federer’s 19, coming four years after his last Flushing Meadows title triumph.

“Personally, it’s just unbelievable what happened this year after a couple of years with some troubles, injuries, some moments playing not good,” said Nadal, who collected the champion’s check for $3.7 million. “The season has been very, very emotional. Since the first important event of the year in Australian Open, I think I have been playing very high level.

“The US Open is the event that brings me to the higher energy of the world because the crowd here is unbelievable, just make me feel so, so happy.”

A capacity crowd of 25,755—including billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, singer Tony Bennett, US Open women’s champion Sloane Stephens, actor Matt Dillon, comedian Jerrry Seinfeld and golfer Tiger Woods—greeted Nadal with a rock-star reception standing ovation as he took the court.

Hard courts have been a hard road for the King of Clay, who had played 34 tournaments and lost eight straight hard-court finals since his last title on the surface at Doha in January 2014.

On this day, the top seed operated in commanding cruise control claiming his 74th career championship. Nadal downsized the tallest man to contest a Grand Slam final beating the 6’8” South African to the ball, bending shots into obscure areas of the court and beating him up in baseline rallies.

Delivering dynamic tennis, Nadal served 63 percent, dropped only seven points on his first serve and did not face a break point. He permitted just 15 points in 14 service games winning 16 of 16 trips to net collecting his 16th major championship.

Playing his first major final, the tournament ace leader felt the stress on serve from the opening game.

Standing so far behind the baseline he could have stepped on the linespeople’s toes, Nadal hit his returns with height, depth and confounding spin nullifying Anderson’s ability to play first-strike tennis in reducing the aggressive baseliner into reactive points.

The world No. 1 earned break points in four of Anderson’s first five service games making him pay a physical price in the process in draining the strength from his legs.

“Rafa made it very difficult for me tonight,” Anderson said. “I felt he got a lot of returns back. He varied his return position quite a lot. You know, one of the best defenders in our sport.

“I felt he served really well. I sort of struggled a little bit adapting to the left-handed serve, and, you know, didn’t even get a break point throughout the whole match. It was definitely difficult, and I think he had a pretty good read on my serve, and he was getting my serve games and he was holding quite comfortably.”

The former all American at Illinois should grit denying a pair of break points in the third and fifth games, but betrayed his cause in the seventh game. Anderson double-faulted off the tape to face a fifth break point then jerked a short forehand wide donating the break and a 4-3 lead after 47 minutes of play.

The first 30-and-over men’s US Open final since a 31-year-old Pete Sampras defeated a 32-year-old Andre Agassi in 2002, featured a pair of 31-year-olds whose rivalry dates back to their days in the European 12-and-under circuit.

Anderson has experienced years of torment facing Nadal and was dripping with sweat 50 minutes into the match as Nadal spread the court and made the big man move corner to corner. Trying to squeeze his flat strikes with more ambition, Anderson found the net instead for set point.

Crunching a forehand down the line, Nadal followed it to net knifing a backhand drop volley winner and dancing to his seat with a one-set lead after 58 minutes.

Though Anderson is one of the most explosive servers in the sport, Nadal was the more proficient server in the set.

Moving his serve around the box shrewdly, Nadal won 21 of 25 first-serve points and was a perfect 11 for 11 at net building a one-set lead. In contrast, Anderson coughed up four double faults and won just seven of 23 points played on his second serve.

Knowing challenging the 10-time Roland Garros champion in baseline exchanges was a losing proposition, Anderson tried taking the initiative and attacking net. But his transition game and net play were no match for the dipping topspin passes a dialed-in Nadal drilled.

Struggling to take the initiative on serve, Anderson belted a backhand into net to face double break point in the sixth game.

Swarming the frontcourt, Nadal had his nose over net blocking a backhand volley before bashing a smash muscling out the break and a 4-2 second-set lead.

“I think I played the right match, the match that I have to play,” Nadal said. “I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal, no? To try to have long rallies, to try to have long points, because he will try to play short.

“But of course if the ball is going over the net couple of times helps, because he gets more tired. He’s taller. His movements are a little bit worse than my ones. That was the goal for me, no, to take advantage and try to move him. Is long match, best of five, so that helps probably a little bit more me than him, playing best of five than best of three.”

Moving fluidly, Nadal knocked off a high forehand volley then slide a serve winner down the middle for triple set point. Crunching a twisting topspin forehand crosscourt, the two-time champion snatched a two-set lead after 97 minutes. Nadal produced a 15 to 6 winner advantage in the 39-minute second set.

While this season has not been one of reinvention for Nadal, he has shown refinement in his first full season with mentor and former world No. 1 Carlos Moya in the box. Nadal has mixed his serving patterns cleverly, drove his forehand down the line with accuracy and asserted the net skills that make him the reigning Olympic gold-medal doubles champion wisely.

When Anderson sprayed a forehand wide to donate the break in the opening game of the third set, the only real drama remaining was whether the Floridian could push the final to the two-hour mark.

On his first championship point, Nadal lined a forehand off his back foot into net. Shrugging it off, he lashed a serve winner wide for a second championship point.

One of the best baseliners in tennis history, showed his versatility storming forward behind a wide serve and driving a backhand volley into the corner to conclude a masterful two hour, 27 minute triumph.

New York City fans witnessed the end of an era.

This was billed as Uncle Toni Nadal’s last Grand Slam in his nephew’s coaching box, but a final that ended with a forward rush continues a Grand Slam race for the ages.

If Nadal continues to compete with the energy, intensity and all-court acumen he’s shown this year, he has a serious shot to close the gap on Federer in the all-time Grand Slam list, but on this night celebrating his second Grand Slam title of the year was Nadal’s immediate priority. 

“I’m very happy with all the things that are happening to me, win this title again. I have this trophy with me,” Nadal said. “Is so important, winning on hard court again. That’s a lot of positive energy for me. Being healthy, you see everything more possible, no? With injuries, everything seems impossible. But being healthy and have the chance to practice well and compete well, everything change.

“But is true that I have 31, I don’t have 25, but I still have the passion and the love for the game. I still want to compete and still feel the nerves every time that I go on court. Until that things keep happening, I will be here.”

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