Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens walked away as champions in what was one of the most unpredictable, and at times bizarre, US Open Championships in recent history.
It was a fortnight dominated by one particular theme: injury comebacks; and it celebrated the true resilience of these incredible athletes.
Stephens, Madison Keys, Kaia Kanepi, Petra Kvitova, Juan Martin del Potro, Kevin Anderson… the list goes on and on.
Here’s a look at the highs and lows from a memorable two weeks at Flushing Meadows.
Two matches that could have been finals. The level of competition between Williams and Kvitova in the quarters, and Halep and Sharapova in the opening round was simply breathtaking. Add to that the back stories behind each opponent and you understand why we were on the edge of our seats throughout both encounters.
You cannot get tired of listening to Stephens’ inconceivable comeback tale. The 24-year-old American couldn’t walk without a peg leg up until late April and played her first match in 11 months at Wimbledon last July. She ranked as low as 957 just six weeks ago yet is now the reigning US Open champion. This is a ‘30 for 30’ film just waiting to happen. Get on it, ESPN!
The 19-year-old Russian has been quietly moving up the rankings this season. He started the year ranked 152 and is now 37, thanks to a title win in Umag and his stunning run to a first Grand Slam quarter-final in New York. Prior to the US Open, Rublev had only ever won two main draw matches at the majors. But lack of experience did not matter as he took out seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov and ninth-seeded David Goffin en route to the last-eight.
The world No. 1 lived up to his top seeding and managed to up his game with every passing round. As seeds kept dropping like flies in the men’s draw, Nadal marched on until he found his best form when it mattered the most. The tactical changes he made after dropping the first set to Del Potro is a masterclass in match management. Take note, everybody!
The Canadian teen wowed us when he made the semi-finals in Montreal beating Nadal and Del Potro along the way. But our respect for him multiplied when he backed up that run in Canada with a sprint to the fourth round of the US Open. He won six matches in total – three in qualifying and three in the main draw – before he succumbed to Pablo Carreno Busta in three tiebreak sets. Judging from the crowd support he got in New York, the 18-year-old is already proving to be a big draw card.
The Argentine was down and out against Dominic Thiem in the fourth round. Stricken by the flu, Del Potro won just three games in the opening two sets against the Austrian and was thinking about retiring. But then the ‘ole’ chants grew louder and louder and the ever-popular Del Potro somehow turned things around, saving match points in the fourth set before taking out the No6 seed in five. An unforgettable day on Grandstand at the US Open.
From the hug at the net, to the on-court giggles they shared, and the speeches they gave during the trophy ceremony, Stephens and Keys made us all jealous of their friendship and showed us what true grace looks like, in victory and defeat. Stephens urging parents to support their kids’ dreams and her tribute to her mother also brought tears to our eyes.
The 2014 US Open champion missed a real opportunity. That bottom half of the draw looked like it was his to take but the No5 seed instead crashed out to Diego Schwartzman in the third round. No disrespect to Schwartzman, who is having a great season, but Cilic surely knows his draw was a gift he couldn’t capitalise on.
The No7 seed entered the Open having just won his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati. But instead of riding the momentum wave, he was sent packing by Russian teenager Andrey Rublev in straight sets. Rublev ended up reaching the quarters, which may have saved some face for Dimitrov but still, losing in straights to a player who had only ever won two Grand Slam matches prior to the US Open is something the Bulgarian will have to seriously think about.
The Italian’s obscene and misogynistic words directed at chair umpire Louise Engzelle in his first round defeat in singles got him disqualified from the rest of the tournament (he was playing doubles too) and saw him get slapped with a hefty $24,000 fine. His controversies never end!
We tip our hats to the man who loves to wear hats. The RnB superstar designed the kit worn by all adidas-sponsored players at the US Open. They may not have won trophies this past fortnight but their style was definitely award-winning.
The 13-year-old prodigy made it to the final of the junior tournament and was bidding to become the youngest US Open junior champion in history. She lost to Amanda Anisimova in the end but keep an eye out for this brilliant teen.
It’s been a memorable fortnight in New York and as the US Open comes to a close, here’s a look at the punchiest lines from the interview room.
From Caroline Wozniacki’s scathing take on the scheduling choices of the tournament organisers, to Sloane Stephens’ unforgettable champion’s press conference, the players gave us plenty of one-liners and quips throughout the two weeks.
— Caroline Wozniacki criticising the decision to schedule all of Maria Sharapova’s matches on Arthur Ashe court in her first Grand Slam appearance since serving a 15-month doping ban.
— Sharapova’s cutting response
— Rafael Nadal in being asked to sum up Roger Federer’s contribution to the sport.
— Sloane Stephens on her motivation to win a second Slam after clinching the women’s title.
— Stephens again
— Nadal on getting older
— Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov fumes at reporters after his name was linked to a betting investigation.
— Venus Williams refusing to confirm that sister Serena has given birth to a baby girl.
— Garbine Muguruza on Serena’s baby
— US Open runner-up Madison Keys
— The rarely sarcastic Dominic Thiem quips back at a reporter when asked if he was frustrated by his loss to Juan Martin del Potro, after holding match points and leading by two sets to love
— Daria Gavrilova on contesting – and losing – the longest women’s singles match in US Open history against Shelby Rogers
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.