Rafael Nadal Didn’t Need To Be Spectacular In The U.S. Open Final
Rafa Nadal wasn’t the same player on Sunday he had been two days earlier.
He didn’t need to be.
Kevin Anderson fought to the last point, but the tall South African quite simply isn’t the player that Juan Martin del Potro is. And certainly not in Nadal’s class.
Nadal just played his game. He allowed Anderson to think he actually could defeat Rafa.
Of course, Anderson couldn’t, even against an unusually vanilla game by Nadal.
NADAL PLAYED AN ALMOST VANILLA GAME
Nadal just played nearly perfect tennis, nothing spectacular. He made only a few errors and held Anderson at bay with his tricky left-handed serve. Rafa finally double-faulted in the fourth game of the third set, at 40-love. He never faced a break point.
It was kind of a relaxing afternoon for Rafa and his fans. Kind of unusual for a Grand Slam final. He didn’t show the intensity he demonstrated in the spectacular last three sets in his four-set win over del Potro.
This U.S. Open belonged to Nadal. The 31-year-old Spaniard capped off the year’s final Grand Slam event with a rather casual 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Anderson.
It was an amazing year for Nadal, two Grand Slam titles and a runner-up. Most of tennis’ TV experts didn’t expect Rafa to win even one major title and surely not take over the No. 1 ranking in the world.
PERFECT APPROACHES MADE DIFFERENCE
The only thing flashy for Nadal in Sunday’s U.S. Open final was his unmatched quick spurts toward the net to pick off anything Anderson put air under. Rafa was perfect in that role, never flubbing a high overhead volley or any of his 16 net approaches.
That part of the game had to play a role in Nadal’s straight-forward victory.
A third U.S. Open title keeps Nadal in the race to catch Roger Federer’s record Grand Slam total of 19 titles. Nadal started the year three titles behind Federer and ends the Grand Slam season still three down, even though Federer also won two major titles.
NADAL SOAKED UP ANDERSON’S POWER
Nadal had his chances early, failing to capitalize on four break points in the third and fifth games of the match, games that went to a total of 11 deuces. Rafa didn’t win either of those games, but they probably played their role in Anderson’s brief collapses in each of the three sets.
Rafa finally got the service break in the seventh game and got another one in the ninth game to capture the first set.
For two hours and 27 minutes, it was just a matter of Nadal handling almost every bit of power Anderson threw his way, in the process making the lumbering 6-8 player go for even more on his serve and forehands.
That played right into the resourceful Nadal’s hands. Nadal had much rather see an opponent’s ball going out than hitting a winner of his own. It’s called defense, and no one plays that game better than Nadal.
RAFA THE BEST IN THE GAME
Nadal also now has a weapon called offense. Blend the two together, and right now he appears to be easily the best player in the game. Such an overall performance by Nadal in seven matches must be discouraging to Federer, who had quite a year of his own.
Federer has to do it all over again in 2018, a year in which he will turn 37 years old. It really doesn’t matter if Federer plays every tournament on the planet the rest of 2017 just to get his name listed as the year-end No. 1. He’s done it before, so he’ll probably try to do it again.
Meanwhile, Nadal probably will be smiling on Mallorca.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at