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Nadal wins U.S. Open title with straight-set win over Anderson

Muy bien hecho, Rafa.

Rafael Nadal, the Spanish tennis artist and world No. 1 player with the big biceps and the blink-and-you-miss forehands, won his third U.S. Open title Sunday, a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over South African Kevin Anderson on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, under an open roof and in front of 25,755, which included plenty of bold-face names.

Anderson, the tournament’s No. 28 seed, and a 6’8 lanky, high-octane server who was playing in his first Grand Slam singles final, brought a booming serve and plenty of game, but even his long frame couldn’t catch up with Nadal’s blistering returns, despite long lunges. Nadal also had the glittery Slam resume entering the final – 15 major titles, including victories in the 2010 and ’13 Open – and the experience gave the 31-year-old Spaniard a huge edge.

On match point, and with Nadal serving, Anderson hit a backhand return that Nadal chased at the net. With smooth precision, Nadal sliced a backhand volley to the other corner that Anderson had no chance of chasing down, and after two hours, 27 minutes, the now 16-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion raised his arms in triumph. It was the seventh time in the Open era that a Slam final was decided by two players over the age of 30. Anderson is also 31.

“Thank you everyone,” Nadal said in his native Spanish after he received a check for $ 3.7 million to go along with his championship trophy.

“Closed the Grand Slam year winning here in New York,” Nadal said in English, referring to his stellar 2017 season in which he reached the final in both the Australian Open, where he lost to Roger Federer, and the French Open, where he won over Stan Wawrinka. “Winning here, it’s high energy. The crowd here is unbelievable. It makes me feel happy.”

Rafael Nadal was in control Sunday in Flushing as he over-powered Kevin Anderson for U.S. Open title.

Rafael Nadal was in control Sunday in Flushing as he over-powered Kevin Anderson for U.S. Open title.

(Andres Kudacki/AP)

A classy Anderson said to Nadal in defeat: “I know we’re the same age, but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life. You’ve been an idol of mine, and you’re one of the greatest ambassadors of our sport.”

Nadal got an early taste of those big Anderson serves in the very first game of the match. Anderson whacked a 136 mph serve for deuce and then won the game on a 128 mph heater. In the third game of the first set, with Anderson on serve, the two players played to a deuce No. 6, but Nadal first hit a forehand wide, and then skied a return to drop the game. The game took 12 minutes to complete, and Nadal missed two break chances, including after he gained the advantage with a backhand that sailed over the towering Anderson’s head and landed in – no easy feat. But on the ensuing point, Nadal smoked a forehand into the net for deuce No. 2.

It wasn’t until seventh game of the first set when Nadal finally got the first break of the match. At deuce, Anderson double-faulted – he had four in the match – and then lost the game when he sprayed a forehand wide. On set point, Nadal hit a backhand volley at the net after a long rally, and punctuated the win by pumping his arms.

Nadal had received the loudest cheers even before he entered the court, when the jumbo screens showed him coming up the tunnel. But Anderson had some fan support too, with one male fan in the nosebleeds shouting, “C’mon Kevin” early in the match. There were also plenty of customary “Vamos Rafa!” chants.

The men’s Open final drew some heavy hitters from business, sports and entertainment: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, 14-time golf major champ Tiger Woods, newly crowned women’s Open champion Sloane Stephens, crooner Tony Bennett, model Christie Brinkley, Jerry Seinfeld, actresses Candice Bergen and Hilary Swank, and actor Matt Dillon.

Kevin Anderson doesn't have an answer for Rafael Nadal's power in his first grand slam final.

Kevin Anderson doesn’t have an answer for Rafael Nadal’s power in his first grand slam final.

(Andres Kudacki/AP)

Nadal needed until the sixth game of the second set to break Anderson, and he did so in thrilling fashion. The Spaniard rushed the net and hit two volleys that Anderson returned. On the third volley, Nadal left no doubt with a forehand smash to win the point. On set point, Nadal hit a cross-court forehand slice to go up two sets to love.

Anderson had 10 aces overall, but he was often undone by unforced errors, and racked up a whopping 40 while Nadal only had 11. Nadal was 4-of-9 on break points. Anderson’s road to the Open final was made easier by the absences of defending Open champ Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who were all out with injuries.

In the clinching third set, Nadal broke Anderson in the first game, and the two held serve for the remainder of the set. Serving for the match, Anderson fought Nadal to deuce, but Nadal served a 117 mph missile that Anderson barely got a racket on, and then completed the final volley to end the match.

Nadal’s 16 major titles are three shy of tying the Swiss legend Federer, who has 19. Federer and Nadal have never met at the Open, and this year, Federer was ousted in the quarterfinals by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who then lost to Nadal in the semis.

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