Rafael Nadal breezes to US Open men’s tennis championship

Rafael Nadal of Spain holds the championship trophy after beating Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the men's singles final of the U.S. Open on Sunday in New York. (AP photo)

NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal entered the 2017 Grand Slam season on a 2 1/2-year drought without so much as one appearance in a major final, let alone a title. He ends it having reasserted himself, capped by a U.S. Open final that shaped up as quite a mismatch — and turned out to be exactly that.

His game at a higher level than it needed to be by the end of an unusually easy path through the field, Nadal overwhelmed Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win his third championship at Flushing Meadows.

“Of course, after a couple of years without competing at this very high, high level,” Nadal said, “very happy to be back.”

The No. 1-ranked Nadal collected his 16th Grand Slam trophy overal. Among men, only Roger Federer has more, with 19. Each won two majors this season, marking their return to the heights of their sport.

Nadal has dealt with knee and wrist problems, both likely a result of his physical brand of play, over his career, but 2015 and 2016 were his first seasons without reaching at least one Grand Slam final since 2004.

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot from Kevin Anderson of South Africa during the men's singles final of the U.S. Open tournament on Sunday in New York. (AP photo)

Seems safe to say that, at age 31, he is once again the Nadal of old.

At No. 32, Anderson was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open men’s finalist since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973.

Nadal added to his U.S. Open triumphs in 2010 and 2013 and improved to 16-7 in Grand Slam finals. For the first time since 2013, he appeared in three in a single season, losing to Federer at the Australian Open in January, then beating Stan Wawrinka for his record 10th French Open trophy in June.