Nadal nabs #16, Stephens scores Slam #1 at US Open

Professional Tennis

Nadal nabs #16, Stephens scores Slam #1 at US Open

World number one Rafael Nadal cruised past South African Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-3 6-4 to win his third US Open trophy and sixteenth Grand Slam title overall. American Sloane Stephens was in dazzling form throughout the two weeks, and thrashed close friend Madison Keys 6-3 6-0 in their all-American final.

Coming off foot surgery and extensive injury lay-off, much has been made of Stephens' remarkable ascent after having dropped to #957 in the WTA rankings. With the greatest win of her career, she collected a cheque for a cool US$3.7 million and will move back into the world’s Top 20. Nadal played in his third grand slam final of the year, claiming his second and cementing his place as the dominant player atop the ATP rankings.

It was a great feat for Nadal and a wonderful story for Stephens as well as an amazing climax to a tournament that began reeling from the absence of some of the game’s biggest drawcards. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were some of the stars that were sorely missed in New York this year.

FAST FACTS FROM FLUSHING MEADOWS IN 2017

  • Nadal won without facing any top 25 player - that's the first time that has ever happened in a Grand Slam.
  • South African Kevin Anderson was the first man from his country to make a grand slam final since 1985
  • Defeat for Roger against Juan Martin del Potro means that the New York crowd is still yet to see a Federer-Nadal encounter.
  • This is the first time since Wimbledon in 1985 that there have been four American women semi-finalists at a major.
  • Entering the tournament at #83, only three other players have ever won a Slam being ranked lower than Sloane Stephens.
  • By virtue of her fourth round appearance and Pliskova’s capitulation one round later to Coco Vandeweghe, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza rises to number one in the rankings, thus becoming the first female player from her country to hold the top spot since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 22 years ago.
  • With Nadal, and now Muguruza, perched atop the ATP and WTA rankings, it is the first time ever that players from Spain concurrently hold the top spots

THE WOMEN

With both players in their maiden Grand Slam final, it was a battle of nerves (and fitness), won by Stephens. She is the first unseeded player to win the U.S. Open since 2009, when Kim Clijsters came back from retirement and pregnancy. This was Stephen's best performance since having made the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2013.

30 unforced errors for Madison and just six for Sloane told the story of the match. Although Keys seemed to be hampered by injury, she would not let this be an excuse, as she was outclassed by her best friend on tour. The pair shared a long, warm embrace after the match - encapsulating sportsmanship and friendship in one beautiful image.

Stephens was articulate yet funny; "it's incredible - I had surgery on January 23 and if someone told me then I would win the U.S. Open, I would say that's impossible”. In an endearing post-match press conference, Stephens was pleasantly surprised when told that she had only made six unforced errors the whole match: “snap!”. Keys, for her part was disappointed with her performance. She praised Stephens’ play and said that she was invited and would “definitely” attend her friend’s celebratory drinks.

There were many upsets in the first week, with newly returned Maria Sharapova being responsible for one of them, claiming the scalp of the second seeded Romanian Simona Halep in a blockbuster first round night session match. Other seeds that fell by the wayside early on included Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber, who is still struggling to regain the form that brought her the title and the #1 ranking last year. For all the buzz, Sharapova herself then stumbled in the fourth round losing to 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

THE MEN

Nadal’s second Grand Slam win of the year means that he has split this year’s majors 2-2 with Roger Federer. There has been much talk of the ATP #nextgen, but the ‘stars’ have yet to make a serious impact at a Grad Slam level as Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios all failed live up to expectations in New York.

Andy Murray’s eleventh-hour withdrawal due to injury opened up the bottom half of the draw nicely. Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta took his brilliant play all the way to his first ever Slam semi-final appearance. And while the Flushing Meadows crowd was eagerly anticipating a Federer-Nadal semi-final showdown, they were yet again prevented from seeing this match-up live in the Big Apple. Federer was taken out in the quarterfinal by his apparent New York nemesis, Juan Martin Del Potro, having also lost to the Argentine in the 2008 final. Del Potro’s run continued, even taking the first set off Nadal in the semi-final, but in the end the Spaniard proved too strong.

As much as Nadal may have liked to play his countryman, it was not to be, as South Africa’s Kevin Anderson made his way to his first grand slam final at 32 years of age. In fact, it was the first time he had ever progressed past a Slam fourth round, and was a well-deserved berth after a tough victory over in-form American Sam Querrey and an easy win over giant-killing up-and-comer Borna Coric. The Croatian had earlier upset fourth seed Alexander Zverev and was touted to go far.

DOUBLES

At almost 37 years of age, ‘Swiss Miss’ Martina Hingis added two more Grand slams titles to her tally. Teaming with Chan Yung-Jan, she defeated Katerina Siniakova & Lucie Hradecka 6-3, 6-2 in the women’s final. Jamie Murray played with Hingis to beat Chan Hao-ching & Michael Venus 6-1, 4-6 (10-8) in the mixed doubles final. Hingis has now amassed a grand total of 25 Grand Slam titles (5 singles, 13 doubles, 7 mixed). Meanwhile, Jean-Julien Rojer & Horia Tecau defeated Feliciano Lopez & Marc Lopez in the men’s doubles final, 6–4 6–3. The Spanish pair had earlier defeated the Bryan brothers in the semi-final.

JUNIORS

There was great news for European junior tennis, as Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk won the girls’ doubles title with Olga Danilovic of Serbia. Kostyuk is a former champion of the prestigious Petits As tournament in France, and adds this junior doubles crown to her Australian Open junior singles crown from earlier in the year. It is also Danilovic’s third junior slam doubles win of the year, having won in Paris and Wimbledon with different partners. The pair defeated Lea Boskovic (CRO) & Wang Xiyu (CHN) 6-1 7-5.

In another all-American female singles final, Amanda Anisimova stormed to a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Cori Gauff for her first junior Slam. Wu Yibing (CHN) beat top seed Axel Geller (ARG) in the boys' singles final 6-4, 6-4. He adds this to the doubles title he won with Hsu Yu-Hsiou of Taiwan, and becomes the first Chinese player to win a junior event at Flushing Meadows.

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