Rafael Nadal put the seal on a throwback year for men’s tennis by winning his 16th grand slam title at the US Open.
With the Spaniard also claiming his 10th French Open title and Roger Federer winning in Australia and Wimbledon, it is the first time for seven years that the sport’s two biggest superstars have swept its greatest prizes.
Once Federer lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals in New York, it was always likely that Nadal would take home the trophy.
And he proved far too strong for first-time finalist Kevin Anderson, winning 6-3 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 27 minutes.
The renewed dominance of Federer and Nadal would have been scarcely believable at the end of last season, when injuries put question marks over both of their futures.
“Of course I am surprised,” said Nadal. “But I was surprised in January. Now I am not that much surprised.
“After the first two, three months of the season, you see that I am playing well, and if I am playing well on clay, I normally am going to have my chances.
“Of course he was playing great, so of course he will have his chances on grass and on hard later, like he had here.”
Nadal’s victory saw him again close to within three grand slam titles of Federer at the top of the all-time list – how different that would look had the Spaniard not the Swiss edged their dramatic battle in the Australian Open final.
Given Nadal is 31 to Federer’s 36, the prospect of the former eventually overtaking the latter appears distinctly possible once more.
It’s a bird…it’s a plane…
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2017
“I really never thought much about that,” insisted Nadal. “I just do my way. He does his way. Let’s see when we finish.
“Of course if I will win two grand slams this year and he will not win, we’ll be closer, but he has 19, I have 16. So three is a big difference.
“I’m very happy with all the things that are happening to me, winning this title again. I have this trophy with me.
“It’s so important, winning on hard court again. That’s a lot of positive energy for me. Being healthy, you see everything more possible. With injuries, everything seems impossible.
“It’s true that I am 31, I am not 25, but I still have the passion and the love for the game. I still want to compete and still feel the nerves every time that I go on court. While those things keep happening, I will be here.”
This has been a special season also because it is the last Nadal will share on the road with his uncle Toni, who has been his coach since he first picked up a racket aged three.
Toni will stay at home in Majorca to concentrate on the family’s tennis academy, with Carlos Moya taking over the reins.
Toni has been a famously tough taskmaster for his nephew but he could have few complaints about Nadal’s performance against Anderson.
Nadal put pressure on the serve of the 6ft 8in South African from the start and the result appeared inevitable once he broke for the first time in the seventh game.
— Kevin Anderson (@KAndersonATP) September 11, 2017
The world number one, meanwhile, did not face a single break point, losing just 15 points on serve all match.
The 31-year-old, for whom this was a first title of any sort on hard courts since January 2014, said: “I think I played the right match, the match that I have to play.
“I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal. To try to have long rallies, because he will try to play short.
“I’m 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. Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit has been there in a very positive way all the time.”
At 31, Anderson was the oldest first-time grand slam finalist for more than 40 years having taken advantage of the wide open bottom half of the draw.
The genial South African celebrated his semi-final victory over Pablo Carreno Busta by climbing into the stands to hug his supporters and the feeling then was he had probably already played his final.
He said: “Obviously I’m very pleased to have made my way through to the finals and having that experience. Few players get that chance.
“It’s very tough. To step out on court against Rafa tonight, I learned a lot of lessons. It was a difficult match, up against somebody who has been on that stage over 20 times before. There’s definitely a few things I needed to have done better.”