The list is impressive, even by Hall of Fame standards: Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras – and, as of the final Sunday of the 2017 US Open, Rafael Nadal.
With his 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, victory over surprise finalist Kevin Anderson on Day 14, the King of Clay added a pretty impressive hard-court accomplishment to his glittering resume: a third US Open singles title, making him just the sixth man in the Open era to achieve that mark.
Of course, Nadal hardly needed a third US Open trophy to validate his career. But for those who take the measure of a (tennis) man by his majors, it certainly didn’t hurt. The Spaniard has now won 16 Grand Slam singles titles, three behind Federer for the all-time men’s mark and two clear of any other men’s competitor in history. And even if you remove his astounding 10 French Open titles, Nadal still own six majors – equal to such Open era greats as Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg and just one behind McEnroe.
Nadal’s road to the 2017 US Open title was not daunting – he faced no seed higher than No. 24, though that opponent was Juan Martin del Potro, a man whose caliber far outweighed his spot in the draw – but his play more than made up for it. The last three sets of his 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 semifinal victory over del Potro were as fine as anyone has produced on a hard court in recent memory, and really, Nadal was never threatened during the fortnight.
When the men’s final was over, his backhand volley having found nothing but open blue court, Nadal turned toward his box and raised his arms in celebration. A year that began with questions over whether he would ever regain his old form ended in triumph: his second Grand Slam title of the year and his third in Flushing Meadows. It’s the stuff of legend, all performed with muscular artistry by one in the making.