Although Rafael Nadal’s straight-sets US Open final win over Kevin Anderson was hardly a surprising result, the Spaniard showed another example of how he has reinvented the game. Long known for his intense topspin and mental strength, Nadal stretched the limits of the court by returning serve from the outskirts of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Vamos-Rafa in deep warning track position to return serv pic.twitter.com/HprmIk4vDE— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) September 10, 2017
It’s like the 31-year-old is playing in another dimension.
"Any farther back and they will ask him for his ticket" - Chris Fowler on ESPN on how far back Nadal stands to return Anderson's serve— Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher) September 10, 2017
The 16-time major winner has incorporated this strategy against big servers before, using it to thwart Roger Federer's net attacks in the 2014 Australian Open semifinals. The risk is that Nadal gives up serving angles and leaves his own court more open. The rewards are his excellent margins and increased time to return serves by hitting deeper and carving unusual angles.
Rafa stands so far back to return Anderson's serve that his subsequent move to the baseline is akin to a net rush. It's working. #USOpen— Ed McGrogan (@EdMcGrogan) September 10, 2017
Early in the match, Nadal spun back in a crazy return that whirled around and over a hesitant 6'8" Anderson.
Coming into the match, Anderson talked about how important it would be to control the court. Instead, he was forced into uncomfortable approach shots at critical times and won only 16 of 34 points at net.
By the second set, Nadal transitioned from a defensive attack to aggressively punching more winners than Anderson (15 to 6) and using the court like an exercise in advanced geometry. The world No. 1 never wavered in his tactics, and Anderson was unable to respond. He failed to create a single breakpoint opportunity.
this is the most dominant performance by an invisible person since Kevin Bacon in "Hollow Man" pic.twitter.com/f9aR4pjbL3— Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) September 10, 2017
Never underestimate the heart—I mean, the unorthodox tactics—of a champ. Nadal's ultra-deep return position got him all the breaks he needed— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) September 10, 2017
Credit Nadal’s talent, unconventional style and competitive heart. It's clear he's also one of the great thinkers in the game. He adapts, readjusts and finds ways to deliver new strokes for familiar results.