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STOP PRESS

10th September

US Open

Rafa beat Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 3rd US Open title and 16th Grand Slam

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US Open 2017
by MAC
 
What a fantastic and, arguably, unexpected end to the US hard court season. Before the tournament started, Rafa said, "I'm here at the US Open, and doesn't matter if I No. 1 or not. Today, only thing that matters is try to work well and try to be ready for the first match and try to play a good US Open. That's my goal."

I think we can agree that he achieved his goal.

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After what can best be described as a tentative start, Rafa capitalised on a draw that opened up for him and played some of his best tennis of the year to claim his 3rd US Open title.

His first three matches all started off with a struggle.

The newly installed roof meant that Rafa at least got to play his first match on a rain-soaked day 2 but he did admit afterwards that he was a bit thrown by the amplification of the excessive noise made by the crowd. "Being honest, is a little bit too much (smiling). You know, I don't know how to control that or the umpire have to control that, because, yeah, at the same time is not fair only say that. The real thing is here, the energy and support of the crowd is massive. I enjoy it and I have unforgettable memories from this tournament and this court, because the energy is different from in other places. But at the same time is true that today, under the roof, was too much (smiling). Too much noise, no? I was not able to hear the ball when you are hitting, no? "

Maybe that explains the struggle at the beginning. Dusan Lajovic served for the first set at 5-4 but Rafa broke and took him to a tiebreak. Rafa won the match, 7-6(6), 6-2, 6-2.

Afterwards, he said, "The important thing is win, because is normal that you have some nerves at the beginning and you get a little bit tight at the beginning of the tournament. So important thing is be through, and that's what I did today, no? Tough start but then I played better, of course."

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Gratuitous shirtless pic.

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The start against Taro Daniel (who he'd never played before) was even worse since Daniel managed to take the first set and got an early break in the second. It took a nifty bit of re-grouping for Rafa to turn it around to win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

"Yeah, of course, there is nerves there at the beginning. Yeah, when you have some nerves, when you don't convert Love-30s, couple Love-30s in a row, 15-30s, then some breakpoints, you arrive to 4-All. The opponent, very first breakpoint, he make it. Well, he make it? Of course, I miss it. Yeah, you feel one set down. Then, of course, you play under more pressure. Tough start of the second. Happy to be back. I think the speed was positive. Was a good fight. I think I improved. The last two sets I played better, and that's important for what's coming, no? But, of course, is a day to be satisfied. Days that you're not playing well, that's makes the difference: win when you don't play very well. That give me the possibility to play better. As I say the other day, I am practicing well. I need to compete better. I believe I can do it."

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In the third round it was Leonardo Mayer who made the strong start. 6 break points came and went for Rafa in the first set which Mayer won in a tiebreak. There were a further 7 break points missed in the second set before Rafa finally made his 14th of the match. That was the turning point and Rafa went on to win, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1 6-4.

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"Was a slow start of converting breakpoints. When you have that many breakpoints, you created the opportunities, more than usual. So if you are able to convert one, two of them, probably we will talk about another story because that's the real thing, no? Then you don't make it, of course opponent is a good player, you arrive to the tiebreak. I make a mistake, he play well, had some good serves, you lost the tiebreak. Of course, when you see that you lost a set that you had triple more opportunities than your opponent, then of course you are in trouble. At the beginning of the second, yeah, I had breakpoints again, but is true that he had one 15-40. But, yes, after that finally I converted one at the 14th opportunity. After that, the match was completely different. "

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Because of these struggles I was, to put it mildly, more than a tad nervous about his fourth round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov. (Being present for those losses in Indian Wells and Queens has left a permanent scar.) Needn't have worried, of course. Rafa stormed through, 6-2 6-4 6-1.

"I think I played a solid match, obviously. Not many mistakes. I don't know how -- I didn't see the statistics, so I don't know how many unforced errors I had, but my feeling is not many." (It was 11 as opposed to Dolgopolov's 39.)

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By this time, all the seeds in his quarter (who had been dropping like flies since the start) had gone, so it was 19 year old Andrey Rublev who was his quarter final opponent. They'd never played before but had practised together. Rafa's increasing confidence meant he won easily, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

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Of course, all that the press could focus on was the possibility that he would play Roger Federer in the semi final. Rafa was not so fussed. "I'm excited to be in semifinal, most of anything. Happy the way I played today, and let's see what's gonna happen tonight and let's see which opponent I have in that semifinals."

To the lasting disappointment of the media, Federer was beaten by Juan Martin Del Potro in their quarter final. This was not necessarily good news for a Rafa fan as Del Potro had beaten Rafa the last two times they played. After the first set it loked like this could be three in a row. But once again Rafa turned things around in spectacular fashion to win, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.

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"Important day for me. Important victory against a great opponent. He came to that match with confidence after beating Roger, Dominic, too. A lot of the matches he played this tournament have been a tough one. But at the same time, I think I played a solid match. After the first set I changed it a little bit, changed my tactic, strategy change a little bit. And that makes the difference, no?"

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Being in his third grand slam final of the year prompted the usual questions. Rafa responded thus,
"I tell you, for me what is more important, more than win Slams is be happy. I am happy if I am healthy and happy, if I feel competitive in the most of the weeks that I am playing, and that's what happened this year. So I am very happy about what happened, very happy to win Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland Garros. I am very happy to be in the final here in the US Open.
Of course winning or losing that final is a big change, but I am very happy about all the things that happen to me and I am going to fight to win another title here. But still a great season for me. And as I tell you before, for me, more than winning Grand Slams or not, of course, if I win, I will be more happy but is about being healthy and feel myself well and competitive. That's already happened in the whole season.
So that's most important thing for me.
"

The other side of the draw had also experienced a decimation of the seeds and the surprise finalist was Kevin Anderson. At the tender age of 31 it was his first time in a grand slam final so the odds seemed to be heavily in Rafa's favour. Strange things can happen, though. Pat Cash delighted in reminding people that he was a first time finalist when he beat multiple slam winner Ivan Lendl. And there have been a few unexpected defeats for Rafa this year; most notably the Acapulco final. There was no need to fret, though. Once again, Rafa proved to be by far the stronger player. He never had a break point against him in his 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win.

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"Very happy, no? Been a great two weeks. Increasing level of tennis, increasing of confidence during that two weeks. Yeah, I have this trophy with me again here in New York. Means a lot to me, no? There is no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me after a very emotional season in all aspects. 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."

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So that's his 3rd US Open title, 16th grand slam and 74th singles title.

It doesn't begin to say how enormously proud we are of him but...

¡Enhorabuena, Rafa!