US OPEN: Rafa’s Dream Is Not To Surpass Roger’s Grand Slam Record
Rafael Nadal captured his 16th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday, inching closer to Roger Federer’s record at 19 and distancing himself from Novak Djokovic at 12. The victory also allowed the Spaniard to consolidate his No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. It will not be easy for Roger to dethrone his rival before the end of the year.
NEW YORK, FLUSHING MEADOWS – The US Open final produced the result that everyone expected, as Rafael Nadal of Spain convincingly prevailed over Kevin Anderson of South Africa in straight sets. Before the match, Anderson’s chances were very slim and virtually nobody believed that the South African – who at 6’ 8” was the tallest Grand Slam finalist in tennis history – could defeat the Spaniard in a best of five match. The head-to-head stats between the two players were clearly one-sided in Nadal’s favor, with the Spaniard only dropping one set in four meetings.
31-year-old Anderson, who has been living in Illinois for many years and is also married to an American, never managed to break Nadal’s serve throughout the 2 hours and 27 minutes match and reached 40-40 only in the very last game, when Rafa was serving for the championship at 6-3, 6-3, 5-4 and became “human” for three minutes. “I didn’t serve very well in the last two games,” Rafa said in his post-match press conference.
Anderson’s extraordinary serve helped the South African reach the final with an average of 19 aces per match, but Rafa’s return skills proved too much even for one of the best servers on tour. Anderson hit only 10 aces and his first serve percentage was below 60%. Rafa was standing 12 or 13 feet behind the baseline while waiting for Anderson’s serves and I wonder why Anderson didn’t use his slice serve out-wide to Rafa’s backhand from the deuce-side more often. The South African seemed comfortable using the serve out-wide from the ad-side instead, which didn’t cause Nadal any problems as the ball went straight into his forehand’s strike-zone.
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The Mallorca native lost only 15 points in 16 service games and won an astonishing 16 points in 16 attempts at the net. His volleys were impressive throughout the entire match and he also served-and-volleyed successfully in a couple of occasions.
Rafa is surely better at the net than Djokovic and perhaps Federer early in his career. Roger tremendously improved his skills at the net when he worked with Stefan Edberg a few years ago, but early on he didn’t seem as comfortable at the net as he is now.
With 16 Grand Slam titles to his name, Rafa is now inching closer to Roger Federer’s record at 19. Roger is five years older than Rafa and should in theory “stop” winning before the Spaniard. At 36 years of age, Roger achieved something truly unique this year winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. How long can Roger keep this up, despite his world-class talent? One or two years?
The question is also how long his back – which is apparently the most fragile part of his body – will hold up. The same question applies to Rafa, as the Spaniard was often sidelined in 2012, 2014 and 2016 with multiple knee and wrist injuries.
“Do I dream about surpassing Federer in the Grand Slam title count? No, I don’t really think about it. My only dream is to continue to be healthy and happy,” Rafa candidly admitted to Spanish reporters.
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Despite Rafa’s opinion and feelings, the number of Grand Slam titles won by these legendary players does matter to the fans, media and everyone involved in the tennis circus. If Nadal reached Federer at 19, the fascinating discussion about the Greatest of All Time could become very fiery, especially considering that Rafa has a strong lead in the head-to-head against his Swiss rival.
In the past few years, Djokovic started closing in on Nadal’s record and defeated the Spaniard in multiple occasions. At the beginning of this year, Djokovic had 12 Grand Slam titles and Nadal had 14. Now Rafa is 4 Slams ahead of the Serb.
After putting together two almost perfect seasons in 2011 and 2015, Djokovic seemed the most probable candidate to threaten Roger’s all-time record and it is amazing how things have changed so quickly. Novak will be back in Australia next year and many wonder what kind of shape he will be in.
Nobody expected such a dominant resurgence from Roger and Rafa in 2017. At the beginning of the year, Murray and Djokovic were the two dominant players, but somehow faded away as the months went by. Murray has been suffering from a hip injury, while Djokovic has been dealing with elbow issues for almost the entire season. Stan Wawrinka was also sidelined with an injury for the second part of the year. All these multiple injuries that affected the top players have certainly made the task of Roger and Rafa a little bit easier.
Rafa now has an 1,860 points advantage over Roger in the ATP rankings, but the Swiss will try to gain some ground during the indoor season that traditionally favors his style of play. After the Laver Cup exhibition in a couple of weeks, Roger is scheduled to play Shanghai (1,000 points), Basel (500 points), Paris-Bercy (1,000 points) and the ATP Finals in London (1,500 points). The number one ranking will also depend on how Rafa will perform at those events.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )