Rafael Nadal proved far too good for Kevin Anderson as he claimed a 16th grand slam title at the US Open.
The world number one lived up to his billing as the heavy favourite with a 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory over surprise finalist Anderson.
It completed a throwback year in men’s tennis at the slams, with Nadal and Roger Federer claiming all the titles between them for the first time since 2010.
Nadal has once again closed to within three of Federer’s all-time record of 19 slam singles titles, while the ‘big four’ can now lay claim to 46 of the last 51.
There have been highs and lows in New York since Nadal’s maiden title seven years ago but this was one of his most dominant performances, with the 31-year-old losing just 15 points on serve in the match and not facing a single break point.
Rafael Nadal. Picture: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
Anderson’s big victory was simply in making it to his first grand slam final, taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime in a weakened bottom half of the draw.
It has been a superb two weeks for the likeable South African, the first from his country to make a slam singles final for more than 30 years.
On paper it looked a mismatch. Two players born less than a month apart, one playing in his first grand slam final and one his 23rd.
One crumb of comfort for Anderson was that Nadal had lost his last eight hard-court finals dating back to a title in Doha in January 2014, a run that included two Australian Open final defeats.
Nadal began this tournament with some doubts in his head after unexpected defeats at Wimbledon and in the lead-up events.
But he has rediscovered the knack that has served him so well during his career of playing himself into top form and confidence through a grand slam.
His struggles against Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer were a distant memory as he raced through the last three sets against Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals for the loss of just five games.
Nadal had a read on the Anderson serve straight away and piled on the pressure, forcing four break points in the South African’s first three service games.
Anderson held on but the pressure became too much and Nadal won the final four games of the opening set.
The Spaniard was standing so deep to return 6ft 8in Anderson’s serve that the line judges must have feared for their safety but it was working.
Anderson tried to combat the tactic by coming to the net but, although he wins a lot of points that way, he is not a natural volleyer and Nadal is the master of discomfort for opponents.
Anderson at last had some relief on his serve early in the second set but Nadal broke through again to lead 4-2.
Kevin Anderson. Picture: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
The Spaniard, meanwhile, was cruising through his own service games, losing just seven points in the first two sets combined.
Everything about Nadal’s game was working and there was total conviction in his mind whereas Anderson appeared out of ideas when he blasted a forehand over the baseline and was broken again at the start of the third.
Given his lack of success on Nadal’s serve, that all but sealed it, and the Spaniard clinched victory with a backhand volley after two hours and 27 minutes.
Nadal held his arms aloft and broke into a big smile at his moment of victory.
He said: “Of course it’s a very special two weeks for me. It’s unbelievable what happened this year after a couple of years with some troubles, injuries, moments playing not good.
“Since the beginning of the year it has been very emotional, and to close the grand slam year by winning in New York, I just can say thank you to life for that opportunity and thank you to my team and my family and everybody.”
While Nadal will almost certainly be fighting for more trophies in the years to come, this was the last grand slam with his uncle Toni as coach.
Toni will stay at home in Majorca from next year to concentrate on the family’s tennis academy, with Carlos Moya taking over as lead coach.
“I can’t thank him enough for all the things he did for me,” said Nadal. “Probably without him I will never be playing tennis. It’s great that I had somebody like him pushing me all the time.
“Because he was tough and had great motivation I was able to come through all the problems I’ve had. For sure he’s one of the most important people in my life.”
Nadal ended the presentation ceremony by sending his best wishes to the victims of the earthquake in Mexico and the hurricanes in the south of the United States and the Caribbean.
He said: “Sorry for all the victims but it is the moment to be strong and to fight to be back. All the best for all the victims and the people who are suffering.”
Anderson knew he had lost to the better player but was able to reflect on a superb fortnight.
He said: “I really want to congratulate Rafa. I know we’re the same age but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life. You’ve been an idol of mine. It’s tough to play you but you’re one of the greatest ambassadors for our sport.
“It’s been an amazing two weeks. Last year was difficult, it’s tough to be injured and the competition is so strong so to come back and make my first final, it’s been a really special two weeks. This isn’t the result I wanted but I’ll keep fighting and I’ll be back.”