It was a career achievement for Kevin Anderson. He had about 45 minutes to enjoy it.
The No. 28 seed became the longest shot ever to reach the US Open men’s singles final on Day 12 of the 2017 US Open, defeating Pablo Carreno Busta to advance to the men’s title match. Then he sat back and watched Rafael Nadal play perhaps the best three sets of hard-court tennis the all-time great has ever produced.
The result was a men’s singles final pitting the 6-foot-1, swashbuckling world No. 1, the owner of 15 career Grand Slam singles titles, against a 31-year-old, super-serving 6-8 South African who had never before advanced past the quarterfinals of a major.
Anderson opened play on this second Friday, staying the course through a first set in which Carreno Busta committed just one unforced error and slowly imposing his will – and his serve – on the match. The result was a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory for the South African who lives in Florida and who played his college ball at the University of Illinois. And with it, the then-world No. 32 became the first man ranked outside the Top 30 to reach a US Open men’s singles final since the dawn of the rankings in 1973.
Nadal, meantime, was superb in his final three sets against Juan Martin del Potro, dismantling and then defeating the amiable Argentine, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. After losing the first set, Nadal promptly ran off the next nine consecutive games – an almost impossible achievement against a man rivaled by only Roger Federer for the best serve-forehand combo in the game.
It was, quite simply, stunning to watch. Nadal played tennis of the highest order, albeit against an opponent likely drained by a virus and marathon matches against Dominic Thiem and Federer in the previous two rounds. Still, during his brilliant nine-game run, the Spaniard allowed del Potro a meager 10 total points, and he continued to smother him throughout the match's duration, breaking his towering opponent a stunning six times and producing an impressive 13 such opportunities to advance to his fourth men’s singles final.