NEW YORK – U.S. Open finalists Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson are both professional tennis players who were born in 1986. Not much else in common.
Heading into Sunday’s match – well, mismatch, apparently – Nadal owns 15 Grand Slam titles, including two at Flushing Meadows in 2010 and 2013. Anderson: zero.
Nadal has participated in 22 major finals. Anderson: zero.
Nadal has spent a total of more than 140 weeks at No. 1, his spot right now. Anderson: zero. Indeed, at No. 32, Anderson is the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the ATP began using computer rankings in 1973.
Of their previous tour-level matches, Nadal has won four. Anderson: zero.
Add it all up, and this much is certain: There are not a lot of reasons to expect Anderson to beat Nadal.
Sure, the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, the tallest Grand Slam finalist in history, is equipped with a booming serve – he’s been broken only five times across 108 service games over the past two weeks – and so, in theory, the South African could make Nadal uncomfortable. Although even that seems unlikely, given that the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Nadal is among the game’s top returners and has won 43 percent of his opponents’ service games in the tournament.
“He serves so well. Playing with tons of confidence and doing it very aggressively,” Nadal said about Anderson. “I will need to impose my tempo.”
Anderson’s coach, Neville Godwin, put forth the idea that his guy, only once before even so far as a quarterfinal in 33 previous appearances at majors, should be pressure-free Sunday.
“He’s completely free. He’s completely surpassed any expectations he may have had,” Godwin said. “So he’s got to release himself and just go and play.”
Yes, there is still a match to be contested, and three sets to be won, and an Anderson victory would not be the first time an unheralded tennis player managed to beat a presumably unbeatable one.
Here is a look at some of the sport’s biggest Grand Slam upsets, a list that includes Nadal’s name:
– Roberta Vinci beats Serena Williams in the semifinals, 2015: Williams was bidding for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988, but the 43rd-ranked Vinci won 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
– Juan Martin del Potro beats Nadal in the semifinals, then Roger Federer in the final , 2009: del Potro was 20 and managed to first wallop Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, then end Federer’s 40-match, five-title winning streak at Flushing Meadows in a five-set comeback.
– George Bastl beats Pete Sampras in the second round, 2002: Sampras was a seven-time Wimbledon champion. Bastl was ranked 145th and a “lucky loser,” someone who was eliminated in qualifying but got into the main draw because someone withdrew.
– Richard Krajicek beats Sampras in the quarterfinals, 1996: The only match Sampras lost at the All England Club from the start of the 1993 tournament to the end of the 2000 tournament.
– Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis , Nick Kyrgios, Dustin Brown beat Nadal at Wimbledon, 2012-15: Each of those opponents was ranked outside the top 100 when they stunned Nadal, a two-time champion at Wimbledon.
– Sergiy Stakhovsky beats Roger Federer in the second round, 2013: Federer’s earliest Grand Slam exit in a decade, ending a run of 36 consecutive quarterfinal appearances at majors. Stakhovsky was ranked 116th.
– Ivo Karlovic beats Lleyton Hewitt in the first round, 2003: Hewitt became the first men’s defending champion in the professional era, which began in 1968, to bow out in the first round at the All England Club.
– Lori McNeil beats Steffi Graf in the first round, 1994: Graf became the first women’s defending champion to lose her opener.
– Virginie Razzano beats Williams in the first round, 2012: The 111th-ranked Razzano’s stunning win remains Williams’ lone first-round exit in 66 Grand Slam tournaments.
– Robin Soderling beats Nadal in the fourth round, 2009: Nadal was 31-0 with four consecutive titles at Roland Garros (a total he has since raised to 10). Soderling had never won even a third-round match at a major before that tournament.
– Michael Chang beats Ivan Lendl in the fourth round, then Stefan Edberg in the final, 1989: Chang was 17 and remains the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title.
– Mark Edmonson beats John Newcombe in the final, 1976: Newcombe was the defending champion and Edmonson was ranked 212th. He remains the lowest-ranked man to win a Grand Slam title.
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