NEW YORK (AFP) – Rafael Nadal’s third US Open and 16th Grand Slam title meant a familiar look for the landscape of men’s tennis – and a worrying wake-up call in the “City That Never Sleeps” for the next generation.
The 31-year-old Spaniard defeated Kevin Anderson to ensure that the last five majors have been won by men over 30.
From Wimbledon in 2003, an incredible 53 of 58 Slams have now been claimed by just five men – Roger Federer (19), Nadal (16), Novak Djokovic (12) and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka with three apiece.
To hammer home their enduring appeal and dominance, Federer and Nadal shared the four Slams in 2017 – Federer beating Nadal in the Australian Open final before capturing a record eighth Wimbledon.
Nadal claimed an unprecedented 10th French Open before adding another US title on Sunday.
Both Federer and Nadal have five titles apiece for 2017, impressive for two men who were ranked 16 and nine respectively at the end of 2016.
With Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka sidelined with injury, the US Open was to be the tournament where the “NextGen” was to make its mark. However, it was grim fortnight for most of the young pretenders.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who was seeded four, fell in the second round to Borna Coric despite arriving in New York with five titles, including the US Open tune-up in Montreal.
The 20-year-old’s best Slam performance remains his fourth-round run at Wimbledon.
“I’ve been dealing with expectations from a very young age, so for my whole career. For me, this is just another step,” he said after his loss to Coric in a half of the draw thrown wide open after the injury-hit withdrawal of Murray.
“For me, nothing changes. I still have to go back to work and then try to win this title maybe in the future years.
“I know that I could have done some big things here. I know that I could have done something that I haven’t done before. But I won’t. It’s just as simple as that.”
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios lost first round to compatriot John Millman while sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem, 24, squandered two match points in a five-set defeat in the fourth round to Juan Martin del Potro.
There was some hope for the future stars.
Frances Tiafoe, just 19 and ranked at 70 to start the tournament, pushed Federer to five sets in the first round.
Grigor Dimitrov, who famously described himself as the “old next generation” was knocked out by 19-year-old Andry Rublev of Russia.
Rublev went all the way to the last-eight where he was beaten by Nadal, who allowed him just five games.
“I have to work as hard as I can and the main thing now is to try to keep working harder and harder to improve, because I still have a lot of things to improve,” said Rublev.
“This match told me how far I am and how much I need to improve, so now is time to try to be better and become stronger.
“The top players are faster than me. I need to hit four, five shots to make a winner. For Rafa, he needed one or two shots.”
Canadian 18-year-old qualifier Denis Shapovalov was also a revelation, coming through qualifying having also defeated Nadal at the Montreal Masters on his way to the semi-finals.
Shapovalov was ranked at 161 at the start of the year and is now on the cusp of the top 50 after beating French eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before a last-16 loss to Pablo Carreno Busta in three tie-break sets.
“Definitely, there is still so much work to be done. I’m playing unbelievable tennis right now, but, yeah, it’s not going to be like this every week,” he admitted.