By Ann Liguori
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NEW YORK (WFAN) — This US Open was one of hope, dreams, emergence, re-emergence, overcoming obstacles, and fine sportsmanship. The story lines were endless, making it a most unique and fascinating major championship.
Despite a major in which five of the top 11 seeds in the men’s draw, including three of the past five champions, pulled out before a single ball was hit, and with Serena Williams, the biggest star in American tennis and winner of six US Open titles, not playing, the tournament still somehow held its own.
Top-seeded Rafael Nadal won his third US Open title, and 16th Grand Slam crown overall, dominating Kevin Anderson, the 28th seed from South Africa, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, on Sunday.
Nadal re-emerged this season, winning an unprecedented 10th French Open title and now this US Open championship. He also advanced to the finals of the Australian Open, but lost to Roger Federer.
Before this year, Nadal’s last title came at the 2014 French Open. Injuries then hampered him in the two years that followed, as he failed to make it to a major final. The fact that he has reproduced such a high quality of tennis this season has been incredible.
Nadal is second on the all-time Grand Slam winner’s list, three titles behind Federer. Nadal is also one of three men to win a Grand Slam title in his teens, in his 20s and in his 30s. And despite being 31, the high caliber of tennis he just displayed should mean more opportunities to win major championships going forward, provided he stays healthy.
Anderson, a gentle giant standing 6-foot-8, had never been in a Grand Slam final before. Ranked 32nd, he was the lowest-ranked men’s finalist in the US Open since the computer rankings started in 1973. He gave it his all, but he was no match for Nadal, who won 16 of 16 points attacking the net and returned Anderson’s huge serve brilliantly.
“I know we’re the same age, but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life,” Anderson said, addressing Nadal during the award ceremony. “You are one of the greatest ambassadors of our sport.”
In the women’s draw, it was exciting to watch the young Americans emerge. There were four American women, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys, in the semifinals at the US Open for the first time since 1981.
Stephens emerged with her first Grand Slam title. It was an incredible run considering she had missed 11 months last year and earlier this season with a foot injury that required surgery. Stephens crushed her friend, 22-year-old Keys, 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday afternoon.
After the match, the two close friends embraced for a while, Stephens consoling Keys, who later admitted she didn’t bring her “A” game to the final.
Keys had wrist surgery in 2016 and did not play in this year’s Australian Open. She then had a second procedure following the French Open before coming back for Wimbledon. How ironic it was for these two friends, both sidelined earlier in the year, to face each other in their first Grand Slam final, at the U.S. Open, no less. It was the first all-American women’s final since 2002, when Serena defeated her sister Venus.
Other highlights from this year’s US Open include watching 37-year-old Venus continue her outstanding year. After getting to the Australian Open final and the Wimbledon final, she lost a very competitive three-setter to Stephens in last week’s semifinals.
Stephens was so gracious after her match, saying it was such a privilege to be on the same court as Venus, a player she has looked up to since she was very young.
Maria Sharapova’s return to a major championship after being suspended for 15 months, and run to the fourth round was compelling. Watching her electrifying win over Simona Halep on opening night was a highlight.
Petra Kvitova’s return to the game from the stabbing incident in her own home in the Czech Republic this past December, which required reconstructive surgery on her wrist, was another inspiring comeback story. She played beautifully through to the quarterfinals and even though she lost to Venus, their third set was outstanding tennis.
And, of course, Juan Martin del Potro’s inspired play, after being away for two years and enduring four wrist surgeries, was another great story line. The Argentinian seemed to have his entire country rooting for him during each match, including his five-set marathon victory against No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem in the fourth round and his four-set win over No. 3 Federer in the quarterfinals.
These stories and many more made this US Open another one for the ages.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori