Rafael Nadal described the year 2017 as “one of the best of his career” on Sunday after winning a third US Open and 16th Grand Slam.
World number one Nadal defeated South Africa’s world number 32 Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in a brutally one-sided final during which he did not face a break point.
Nadal also claimed an unprecedented 10th French Open in June after finishing runner-up to Roger Federer at the Australian Open.
“In terms of results, this has been one of the best seasons of my career, of course,” Nadal admitted of a year in which he won at least two Slams for the fourth time in his career.
Had he gotten the better of Gilles Muller at Wimbledon, where he lost the final set of his fourth-round clash 15-13, the year might have been even more memorable.
“I have been winning titles, playing three finals of Grand Slams, so that’s a lot. That’s so difficult. The other slam that I was not in the final, I lost the match 15-13 in the fifth to be in the quarterfinals.
“So was very competitive year for me. And on clay, I won almost every match. Of course is an emotional season because I have been through tough moments in terms of injuries.”
Nadal’s win on Sunday was the latest chapter in an epic story of domination by the sport’s superstars.
From Wimbledon in 2003, an incredible 53 of 58 Slams have now been claimed by just five men — Federer (19), Nadal (16), Novak Djokovic (12) and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka with three apiece.
Only Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic have broken the spell.
“We are are in an era that is not nice to say, because I’m part of it, but we are in an era that some players make incredible things in this sport,” said Nadal.
“It’s difficult to win a lot of titles. We should be very happy. Probably even Roger and me and Novak, much more than we ever dreamed.”
To hammer home their enduring appeal and dominance, Federer and Nadal shared the four Slams in 2017 — Federer winning the Australian Open before capturing a record eighth Wimbledon.
Rafael Nadal put the seal on a throwback year for men’s tennis by winning his 16th grand slam title at the US Open.
With the Spaniard also claiming his 10th French Open title and Roger Federer winning in Australia and Wimbledon, it is the first time for seven years that the sport’s two biggest superstars have swept its greatest prizes.
Once Federer lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals in New York, it was always likely that Nadal would take home the trophy.
And he proved far too strong for first-time finalist Kevin Anderson, winning 6-3 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 27 minutes.
The renewed dominance of Federer and Nadal would have been scarcely believable at the end of last season, when injuries put question marks over both of their futures.
“Of course I am surprised,” said Nadal. “But I was surprised in January. Now I am not that much surprised.
“After the first two, three months of the season, you see that I am playing well, and if I am playing well on clay, I normally am going to have my chances.
“Of course he was playing great, so of course he will have his chances on grass and on hard later, like he had here.”
Nadal’s victory saw him again close to within three grand slam titles of Federer at the top of the all-time list – how different that would look had the Spaniard not the Swiss edged their dramatic battle in the Australian Open final.
Given Nadal is 31 to Federer’s 36, the prospect of the former eventually overtaking the latter appears distinctly possible once more.
It’s a bird…it’s a plane…
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2017
“I really never thought much about that,” insisted Nadal. “I just do my way. He does his way. Let’s see when we finish.
“Of course if I will win two grand slams this year and he will not win, we’ll be closer, but he has 19, I have 16. So three is a big difference.
“I’m very happy with all the things that are happening to me, winning this title again. I have this trophy with me.
“It’s so important, winning on hard court again. That’s a lot of positive energy for me. Being healthy, you see everything more possible. With injuries, everything seems impossible.
“It’s true that I am 31, I am not 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. While those things keep happening, I will be here.”
This has been a special season also because it is the last Nadal will share on the road with his uncle Toni, who has been his coach since he first picked up a racket aged three.
Toni will stay at home in Majorca to concentrate on the family’s tennis academy, with Carlos Moya taking over the reins.
Toni has been a famously tough taskmaster for his nephew but he could have few complaints about Nadal’s performance against Anderson.
Nadal put pressure on the serve of the 6ft 8in South African from the start and the result appeared inevitable once he broke for the first time in the seventh game.
— Kevin Anderson (@KAndersonATP) September 11, 2017
The world number one, meanwhile, did not face a single break point, losing just 15 points on serve all match.
The 31-year-old, for whom this was a first title of any sort on hard courts since January 2014, said: “I think I played the right match, the match that I have to play.
“I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal. To try to have long rallies, because he will try to play short.
“I’m 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. Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit has been there in a very positive way all the time.”
At 31, Anderson was the oldest first-time grand slam finalist for more than 40 years having taken advantage of the wide open bottom half of the draw.
The genial South African celebrated his semi-final victory over Pablo Carreno Busta by climbing into the stands to hug his supporters and the feeling then was he had probably already played his final.
He said: “Obviously I’m very pleased to have made my way through to the finals and having that experience. Few players get that chance.
“It’s very tough. To step out on court against Rafa tonight, I learned a lot of lessons. It was a difficult match, up against somebody who has been on that stage over 20 times before. There’s definitely a few things I needed to have done better.”
Sloane Stephens won her first Grand Slam title on Saturday, beating fellow American Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the final.
She then conducted a news conference which will go down as one of the more entertaining in the sport’s history.
AFP Sports looks at Stephens in full flow in New York:
ON NIGHT BEFORE FINAL
“I was literally in my room twiddling my thumbs, like, looking at, like – I literally was looking at car reviews last night on Auto Trader, like literally. That’s how bored I was. I didn’t have anything to do.”
ON HER COLLEGE STUDIES
“First of all, I’m totally not going to graduate. I haven’t done any work for two weeks. I don’t think I’m going to make it. My graduation date is December 14th, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. My professors actually texted me, so maybe they’ll let me, you know, slide.”
ON ONLY SIX UNFORCED ERRORS
“Shut the front door. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Oh, my God. That’s a stat. Snaps for me.”
ON WANTING ANOTHER SLAM WIN
“Of course, Girl. Did you see that check that lady handed me? Like, yes. Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will. Man.”
ON HER TROPHY CEREMONY
“Because I was, like, this is a picture they are probably going to use and I look terrible. That’s what I remember most about the picture. Sorry.”