NEW YORK, Sept 10 (Reuters) - First-time grand slam finalist Kevin Anderson said he felt relaxed going into Sunday’s U.S. Open decider but was overwhelmed by the “conundrum” of Rafa Nadal’s ruthless all-court game.
Although the same age as the 31-year-old Spaniard, the late-blooming South African faced an opponent contesting his 23rd grand slam final and fourth at Flushing Meadows.
“I think the nerves that I was maybe going to feel, you know, I felt pretty good out there,” Anderson told reporters after his 6-3 6-3 6-4 defeat.
”I thought I was hitting the ball very well.
“It was more the conundrum of playing Rafa as opposed to being in my first final.”
World number one Nadal played near-perfect tennis on Sunday, committing just 11 unforced errors, never facing a break point and winning all 16 points at the net, including a beautifully timed volley to clinch the title.
That level of performance was too much for Anderson, who relies heavily on a huge serve that typically wins bunches of free points off lesser opponents.
Not so against Nadal, a human backboard who pressured the South African’s serve from the outset and broke him four times from his nine opportunities.
“Rafa made it very difficult for me tonight,” he said of the Mallorcan, who celebrated his third title at Flushing Meadows.
“I felt he got a lot of returns back. He varied his return position quite a lot. You know, one of the best defenders in our sport.”
Federer and Nadal each won two of the four grand slam titles this year, with the 36-year-old Swiss taking the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Anderson said that if 16-times grand slam champion Nadal could stay healthy, he would have a shot of catching Roger Federer’s record of 19.
“It’s very close right now,” he said.
”Staying healthy would be the biggest obstacle to that. Roger is obviously a few years older than him, but he’s had an amazing year.
“I guess time will tell on that.”
Anderson did not expect the competition in the men’s game to let up in 2018, when ‘Big Four’ players Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are expected to return from injury.
“I expect them to be healthy and ready to go in a similar fashion that Rafa and Roger were this year,” he said.
“I think it will be very interesting next year.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ian Ransom