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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.