Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens are the US Open winners for 2017. Over the course of the past 2 weeks, tennis fans had the chance to enjoy great tennis, big upsets, huge comebacks and the return of one of the sports’ greatest to hard court success. On Sunday, Rafael Nadal beat Kevin Anderson to win his first hard court title since 2014 and 16th Grand Slam overall. The day before, Sloane Stephens had completed an amazing comeback to top tennis, winning her first Grand Slam title. In spite of completely ruining my sleeping schedule, I have to admit I woke up today feeling kind of sad the tournament is over. The last Grand Slam of the season came bearing gifts for 2 of the most in-form players currently. Both inspiring, for different reasons.
Rafael Nadal wins his third US Open title and 16th Grand Slam title
It took 8 failed attempts for Nadal to claim his first US Open title in 2010 and complete a career Grand Slam. It was the year he played some of the best tennis of his career. In 2013 he won his second US Open title, having come back from knee-and-Hoffa’s-syndrome hell. This year, with half the men’s top 10 out of the tournament and Roger Federer obviously affected by his back injury, Nadal’s road to the title was a bit easier. That didn’t stop the Spaniard from putting on some of his best-ever performances on the Arthur Ashe Stadium stage. In what would have been a more fitting final, the semi-final against Juan Martin Del Porto, Nadal played his best tennis this season. Coming back from a set down, he bageled the Tower of Tandil, with a mix of smart tactics, endless runs and determined aggression.
But Nadal didn’t just want the US Open title. In his interviews throughout the tournament he’s repeatedly focused on how well he plays. After beating Kevin Anderson in the final, he said it again:
So very happy the way that I played, happy the way that I managed the pressure, and the way that I was competing during the whole event, no? Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit have been there in a very positive way all the time
He knows his fighting spirit has always been there, but there was something more he needed in order to start winning titles on hard courts again. His last hard court title was in 2014 in Doha. In 34 hard court tournaments since then, he had lost all 8 finals he participated in. Upping his serve game and spicing up his returns against big servers seems to have helped him reach a new level of play on hard courts. Rafael Nadal would be the undisputed ATP world number 1, even if he hadn’t won the 2017 US Open. His 16th Grand Slam title was just the icing on a cake as big as his career.
The incredible come back of Sloane Stephens to join US Open winners
Hi guys, It’s been a while since I’ve had an update for you. As you all know, I got a little boo boo in my left foot last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in foot surgery that will have me sidelined for the next few months. The good news is that surgery was successful and I have already started rehab! Shooting for a summer ’17 return! Wish me luck and please root me on, I can’t wait to get back on court! I appreciate all of your love, it means the world to me
The photo above was taken in February, when Sloane Stephens was as far away from top tennis as a professional player can be. She was on crunches for 16 weeks at the beginning of the year and was still wearing a protective boot a month before she started competing again in July. Ranked 957 in the world just a few weeks ago, Sloane Stephens has managed to achieve the unthinkable. Emphatically beating favorite Madison Keys (6-3, 6-0) to win the US Open title on Saturday was just the last lap of this unbelievable comeback.
Just a few months after her foot surgery, Stephens started showing what she is capable of in Toronto, for the Rogers Cup. There, she beat Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, before losing to Caroline Wozniacki in the semis. In Cincinnati, she made it to the semis again, losing to Simona Halep. In New York, the unseeded Stephens managed to win the trophy and improve her rank to 17th in the world. Both the 2017 US Open winners have had great comebacks in their career, but Stephens’ achievement is sort of incomparable. She herself said after the final:
There are no words to describe how I got here, because if you told someone this story they’d be, like, ‘that’s insane’.
Yup, that’s what it is. And we can’t wait for more!
Featured image: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com