09:52 AM GMT September 11, 2017
Mission accomplished. Rafael Nadal completed a dominant run to his 16th Grand Slam championship, notching a third US Open title at Flushing Meadows. The top seed defeated Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in Sunday's final.
In 2013, Nadal entered the US Open at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and would emerge with the trophy. Four years later, history repeated itself. The top-ranked Spaniard prevailed in two hours and 27 minutes over the South African, adding to titles won in 2010 and '13.
Nadal, who extends his growing lead in the Emirates ATP Race To London to 1,860 points, caps an impressive Grand Slam campaign with his second major victory of 2017 (Roland Garros). The win gives him the upper hand in the fight for year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings with Roger Federer.
"It's been a very special two weeks for me," Nadal told ESPN in his post-match interview. "But before I talk about me, I want to say congrats to Kevin. He's a great example for a lot of kids and the rest of the tour to come back better than ever.
"For me, personally it's unbelievable. After a couple of years with some injury problems, it has been very emotional since the beginning of the season. Since the Australian Open, I've been playing a very high level of tennis. Winning here in New York gives me great energy, because the crowd is unbelievable. They make me feel so happy."
"Rafa is one of the greatest ambassadors in our sport, so congrats to him," Anderson said in his post-match interview with ESPN. "It's been an amazing two weeks for me. To make my first final of a Grand Slam has really been special. I can take a lot of positive from this summer. A lot of emotions to deal with. I was up against a pretty good opponent today. I'll continue working hard to give myself more opportunities. I'll take it a day at a time and I'm really pleased with how things turned out here."
Open Era US Open Title Leaders
||5||1974, 1976, 1978, 1982-83
||5||1990, 1993, 1995-96, 2002
||3||2010, 2013, 2017
In total, the resurgent Spaniard has won five tour-level titles this year, the most for him since 2013 when he captured 10. It was also his first hard-court victory since the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha in 2014.
Nadal turned in a ruthless race to the finish against Juan Martin del Potro on Friday and he would carry the momentum on Sunday. Relying on his superior agility from the back of the court and biding his time before attacking with great depth, the Spaniard employed an efficient and clinical gameplan on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
With celebrities Rupert Murdoch, Jerry Seinfeld, Hilary Swank, Tony Bennett, Bill Gates and Tiger Woods in attendance, Nadal broke for 4-3 in the first and never looked back, striking a backhand winner to close out the opener. He would continue to press forward in the second set, slamming aside a volley winner to move ahead 4-2, and opened the third with yet another break.
Nadal raised his arms in triumph on his second match point, moving forward for a serve-and-volley winner. He prevailed after two hours and 27 minutes, firing 30 winners to just 11 unforced errors. He won 16 of 16 net points in total, while not facing a break point.
All-Time Grand Slam Title Leaders
"It has been a great two weeks," Nadal told the assembled media. "Increasing level of tennis and increasing confidence during that two weeks. I have this trophy with me again here in New York. It means a lot to me. There is no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me after a very emotional season in all aspects.
"So 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."
The victory marks the first time in Nadal's career in which he has rallied from a set down in three matches en route to a title. He battled hard throughout the two weeks in the Big Apple, coming back to overcome Taro Daniel in the second round, Leonardo Mayer in the third round and del Potro in the semi-finals.
Nadal and Federer have turned back the clock in 2017, combining to divide and conquer the four Grand Slam championships. It marks the fourth time it has happened, in addition to 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Anderson, meanwhile, caps a dream fortnight in reaching his first major final. He became the first South African to reach a Grand Slam title match since Kevin Curren at the 1984 Australian Open. The 31 year old is also the oldest first-time finalist since Nikola Pilic at Roland Garros in 1973.
Anderson is projected to rise to No. 15 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, behind victories over home hope Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals and 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the semis. It was his second final of the American hard-court summer, adding to a runner-up result at the Citi Open in Washington.