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US Open

Rafael Nadal rolls to third US Open title

Regains the world’s No. 1 ranking

ABBIE PARR/GETTY IMAGES

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during the men's finals Sunday.

NEW YORK — Playing with the conviction and point-by-point urgency of his finest years, Rafael Nadal completed an even split of the 2017 men’s Grand Slam loot with Roger Federer.

Nadal, back at No. 1 at age 31, underscored his resurgence by defeating Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in the US Open singles final on Sunday.

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It was Nadal’s third US Open championship and his first since 2013. It was also his first title in a hardcourt tournament since January 2014.

But Nadal, with his innate competitive streak, is much more about confronting today’s challenges than obsessing over the past, and this triumphant season has been a testimony to his uncommon resilience and drive.

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Like the 36-year-old Federer, his past and present rival, Nadal has re-emerged at the highest level after an injury layoff. Like Federer, Nadal has won two Grand Slam singles titles this year.

Federer beat Nadal in five sets to claim the Australian Open and then won Wimbledon before losing in the quarterfinals at the US Open to Juan Martín del Potro. Nadal won an unprecedented 10th French Open in June and has now taken the US Open.

“For me personally, it’s just unbelievable what happened to me this year after a couple of years with some troubles: injuries, moments playing not good,” Nadal said in the postmatch ceremony Sunday. “From the beginning of the season, it has been very emotional.”

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It has been, in so many respects, a throwback season in the men’s game, in part because of the physical problems of Nadal’s and Federer’s traditional rivals.

None of the three men who won major titles in 2016 — Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka — were able to play in this year’s US Open because of injuries.

According to ATP statistician Greg Sharko, this was the first time a man had won a Grand Slam singles title without facing a top-20 seed since seeding expanded from 16 to 32 in 2002.

Murray’s late withdrawal because of hip pain opened up the bottom half of the draw, from which the 28th-seeded Anderson emerged.

After defeating Pablo Carreño Busta in a semifinal on Friday, Anderson, 31, who lives in South Florida, climbed into the stands to celebrate with his team — a move usually reserved for winning titles.

“I don’t know if the team hug is the appropriate thing for the final, but it certainly seemed like the right thing to do,” Anderson said. “These Grand Slams are tough. We are privileged to play with some of the best players in the history of the game. It’s nice some of them gave us a bit of a shot to make a run at this tournament.”

It was an enchantingly modest comment, reflective of all the high-profile withdrawals. It also turned out to be a wise move, because there was not nearly so much to celebrate Sunday as Anderson had to deal with Nadal, fresh and eager and back on top of the tennis pyramid.

At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Anderson, who also has returned to prominence this year after injury, was the tallest player to reach a major singles final, but Nadal kept him constantly off balance and out of position with his whipping shots, ferocious defense, and adroit shot making. Nadal also served superbly. He faced no break points, which is one reason the match generated little sense of drama.

Nadal’s 16 Grand Slam singles titles rank second behind Federer’s 19, and though he has been most prolific on clay, he has now won six major singles titles on other surfaces.

He has won three US Open titles and an Australian Open title on hard courts and two Wimbledon titles on grass.

Though conservative and superstitious by nature, Nadal has continued to push his tennis boundaries. His defense and court coverage, particularly in his semifinal victory over del Potro on Friday, remain remarkable.

Anderson certainly has weapons. He has a potent serve, one that Nadal blunted effectively by standing so deep to return that he was practically in need of a ticket. Anderson also moves and covers the baseline well for a player of his height, producing big power with his groundstrokes.

He has long been eager to embrace innovative methods, like eye-movement training, to improve his game. This year, he has been focusing on being more demonstrative and openly positive on court, in part because he admires Nadal’s upbeat and energetic approach to competition.

“You have been an idol of mine,” Anderson told Nadal after the final.

Born less than a month apart in 1986, Nadal and Anderson have known each other since boyhood. They played in some of the same junior tournaments, and a photograph of them grinning side by side in their early teens has regularly made the rounds on social media when they have faced off recently.

They had a chance to take plenty more photographs together on Sunday in Arthur Ashe Stadium, but as has so often been the case throughout his career, Nadal was the one holding the champions trophy.

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