The apt definition of “next to impossible” may be defined as the task that South African, Kevin Anderson, had at hand in trying to beat world number one, Rafael Nadal, in New York at Sunday’s US Open final. Anderson was appearing in his first ever grand slam final, Nadal, his 23rd.
Crucially, Nadal had beaten Anderson in all their four previous meetings. It meant that if Nadal came out with his A game, Anderson needed to up his game exponentially to have a chance to win his first ever major. That however, is not the kind of miraculous act that can take place within one match, and as the two slugged it out, Nadal’s class shone through.
It is a testament to Nadal’s brilliance that he won in straight sets, despite the artillery that Anderson had in his mighty serve which had the Spaniard waiting for the ball a couple of feet behind the baseline even for the South African’s second serve.
Anderson will rue the missed opportunities, however, especially in the dip of his first serve percentage compared to what he had achieved en route to the final.
Vintage Nadal on his part, gave little in terms of opportunities for the towering South African to take advantage of. His relentless style of play wore down Anderson and there was really no chink in the armour of the Spaniard from Mallorca. Nadal never faced a break point.
After 2 hours and 27 minutes of action, Nadal secured his 16th grand slam title, to come to within 3 of Roger Federer’s record of 19 majors. 2017 is a special year for tennis as it will be remembered for the resurgence of the greatest ambassadors of the sport in the open era, Roger and Rafa, or Fedal (Federer-Nadal). Both Federer and Nadal had been written off by some tennis pundits, given the age factor and injuries that plagued both.
The start of the year Down Under saw the two tennis greats meet at the final of the Australian Open in a match that went the whole length, a five-setter which will be remembered for years to come by those who witnessed it live.
It is the manner in which Federer and Nadal have each added two grand slam titles this year to their impressive hauls that provides lessons for many in the sporting world and beyond.
Nadal entered every grand slam, and went on to reach three finals, winning two. Federer played in three of them, winning two and getting to the quarterfinal of the US Open where he was stopped in his tracks by the Argentine, Juan Martin Del Potro.
The resurgence of Roger and Rafa points to the immense generational rift between the players which is yet to be bridged. Going into 2018, tennis analysts know only too well that with Rafa ranked World No. 1 and Federer World No.2, more grand slam titles could come in the way of the two.