2017 US Open: Men’s final preview

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    And then there were two. Only one determined opponent stands in the way of Rafael Nadal and a third US Open title, and 16th Grand Slam title overall.

    Nadal will start as the prohibitive favourite to add to the 15 major titles he has won throughout a long and distinguished career when he faces off against Kevin Anderson in Monday morning’s (AEST) US Open men’s final.

    It will cap off a stunning season of resurgence which saw him reach the Australian Open final in January, which he lost to Roger Federer in five sets, and reclaim his crown at Roland Garros with an unprecedented tenth title.

    He has also returned to world number one in the rankings, and will leave New York still ranked the best male tennis player on the planet after his rival for the top ranking, Roger Federer, fell to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals.

    The Spaniard has not had to face a single top-25 player en route to his 23rd Grand Slam final, and fourth at Flushing Meadows, making this the easiest ever path he has embarked on to get to a Grand Slam final.

    The only seed he had to face was 24th seed Juan Martin del Potro, who had dealt him a straight-sets thrashing in their previous meeting at Flushing Meadows en route to his first US Open title back in 2009.

    A repeat looked on the cards when Nadal lost the opening set without forcing a break point on del Potro’s serve, however the Spaniard would hit back by claiming the second set 6-0 before wiping the floor in the third and fourth sets to return to the final in New York for the first time since 2013.

    In three other matches, the 31-year-old has either lost the first set (twice, in back-to-back matches against Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer) or been taken to a tiebreak (against Dusan Lajovic in the first round).

    rafael-nadal-tennis-australian-open-2017

    Rafael Nadal (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    He was also at his clinical best in straight-sets victories against Alexandr Dolgopolov and Andrey Rublev in the fourth round and quarter-finals, respectively.

    If this is anything to go by, then 28th seed Kevin Anderson will have his work cut out for him if he is to create history by becoming the first South African man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam singles title.

    Anderson, who is 15 days older than Nadal, endured an injury-plagued start to the year, missing the Australian Open and also taking some time off at other stages during the current season due to hip, leg and elbow injuries.

    He rebounded by reaching the fourth round at both the French Open and Wimbledon, being forced to retire due to injury against Marin Cilic at the former and losing a five-set thriller against Sam Querrey at the latter (though he would get his revenge with a four-set win in the quarter-finals here).

    Now, at Flushing Meadows, where he made his biggest career breakthrough by reaching the quarter-finals two years ago (defeating Andy Murray in the fourth round en route), the 31-year-old has defied all the odds, and taken advantage of a wide open draw, to reach his first Grand Slam final.

    He rode a relatively easy path into the quarter-finals, not having to face a single seed until he met, and defeated, Querrey in the quarter-finals where he had a local home crowd against him.

    However, he was able to quell the American’s threat to advance to his first Grand Slam semi-final, where he then defeated Spanish 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in four sets to become the first South African man since Kevin Curran at the 1984 Australian Open to reach a Grand Slam final.

    The breakthrough has arrived in what is his 34th major tournament, Anderson having made his Grand Slam debut at the 2008 Australian Open as a qualifier.

    The question now remains – does he have what it takes to bring down one of tennis’ greatest gladiators, or will Rafael Nadal claim his third US Open title and 16th major title overall?

    Here is everything you need to know.

    [1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) versus [28] Kevin Anderson (RSA)
    Sunday, September 10 at 4:00pm local time (Monday 6:00am AEST)

    Head-to-head
    All matches: Nadal 4-0
    All finals: First meeting
    At Grand Slam tournaments: Nadal 1-0
    Last meeting: Nadal 6-3, 6-4, third round, 2017 Barcelona Open
    Last Grand Slam meeting: Nadal 7-5, 6-1, 6-4, fourth round, 2015 Australian Open

    Rafael Nadal’s road to the final
    Round 1: defeated Dusan Lajovic (SRB) 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, 6-2
    Round 2: defeated Taro Daniel (JPN) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
    Round 3: defeated Leonardo Mayer (ARG) 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4
    Round 4: defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) 6-2, 6-4, 6-1
    Quarter-finals: defeated Andrey Rublev (RUS) 6-1, 6-2, 6-2
    Semi-finals: defeated [24] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2

    Kevin Anderson’s road to the final
    Round 1: defeated JC Aragone (USA) 6-3, 6-3, 6-1
    Round 2: defeated Ernests Gulbis (LAT) 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
    Round 3: defeated Borna Coric (CRO) 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
    Round 4: defeated Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4
    Quarter-finals: defeated [17] Sam Querrey (USA) 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (9-11), 6-3, 7-6 (9-7)
    Semi-finals: defeated [12] Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4

    Stats that matter
    * This will be Rafael Nadal’s 23rd Grand Slam final and fourth at the US Open, while for Kevin Anderson this will be his first on both fronts.
    * Nadal is shooting for his 16th Grand Slam title, and third at the US Open.
    * Nadal is aiming to win multiple majors in a season for the first time since 2013.
    * Anderson is the first man from South Africa to reach a Grand Slam final since Kevin Curren at the 1984 Australian Open, and first in the Open Era to do so at the US Open.
    * Anderson is the eighth different opponent Nadal has faced in a major final, after Mariano Puerta, Roger Federer, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka.
    * Anderson is the lowest-ranked player Nadal has faced in a Grand Slam final since he faced an unseeded Puerta in his very first major final at the 2005 French Open. He is also the lowest-ranked male to reach the US Open final since the rankings were introduced in 1973.
    * This is the second consecutive US Open men’s final to feature a first time finalist (after Stan Wawrinka last year).
    * This is the first US Open final to feature a first-time Grand Slam finalist since 2014 (when Marin Cilic defeated Kei Nishikori), and first Grand Slam to feature a first-time finalist since Milos Raonic at Wimbledon last year.

    Prediction
    Rafael Nadal in straight sets.