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Rampant Rafa seals US Open final

Tennis

Rafael Nadal against Kevin Anderson in the US Open final shaped up as quite a mismatch - and that's exactly what it was.

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With his game at a high level at the end of an unusually easy path through a grand slam field, Nadal overwhelmed first-time major finalist Anderson 6-3 6-3 6-4 to win his third championship at Flushing Meadows this morning, Australian time.

It is the No.1-ranked Nadal’s second grand slam title of the year and 16th overall. Among men, only longtime rival Roger Federer has more, with 19.

At world No.32, Anderson was the lowest-ranked US Open men’s finalist since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973. The 31-year-old South African never had been past the quarter-finals at any major tournament in 33 previous appearances, so when he won his semi-final last week, he climbed into the stands to celebrate.

There would be no such joy for him today. Nadal simply dominated every facet of the final.

Nadal added to his US Open triumphs in 2010 and 2013 and improved to 16-7 in grand slam finals. For the first time since 2013, he appeared in three in a single season, losing to Federer at the Australian Open in January, then beating Stan Wawrinka for his record 10th French Open trophy in June.

Nadal’s career haul also includes two trophies from Wimbledon and one from the Australian Open. All of his big victories have come while being coached by his uncle, Toni, who is now stepping aside. The US Open was the last grand slam event of their partnership.

Not since Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2000 had a man won a major tournament without facing any opponents ranked in the top 20.

In New York this time, the bracket was weakened by the injury withdrawals of three of the top five men: past champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka.

Plus, Nadal did not need to deal with Federer: The potential for a semi-final, which would have been their first US Open meeting, was dashed when Juan Martin del Potro eliminated Federer in the quarter-finals. Nadal then beat del Potro, the 2009 champion but now ranked 28th, in the semis.

It followed Sloane Stephens yesterday dominating her close friend Madison Keys 6-3 6-0 to win the women’s final, capping a remarkably rapid rise after sitting out 11 months because of foot surgery.

The 83rd-ranked Stephens is only the second unseeded woman to win the tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968.

This was the first all-American women’s final at Flushing Meadows since 2002, when Serena Williams beat Venus Williams.

It was also only the second time in the Open era that two women in New York were making their grand slam final debuts against each other.

Stephens most certainly handled the occasion better, claiming the last eight games and making only six unforced errors – Keys had 30 – in the entire 61-minute mismatch.

Keys, 22, and Stephens, 24, have known each other for years. They texted and spoke on the phone early in 2017, when both sat out the Australian Open because of operations – Keys on her left wrist, Stephens on her left foot.

When the match ended, they met at the net for a long hug. While waiting for the trophy ceremony to begin, Stephens walked over and plopped herself down in a courtside chair next to Keys, so they could chat side-by-side.

A year ago, Stephens sat out the US Open because of what turned out to be a stress fracture in her foot. She had surgery in January, and made her season debut at Wimbledon in July, exiting in the first round.

She lost her next match, too, in Washington, but since then has gone 15-2.

-AP

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