Fendrich on Tennis: Nadal, Federer back at the top in 2017

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NEW YORK (AP) Who would have guessed at the start of 2017 that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would divvy up the year’s four Grand Slam titles?

And who could possibly pretend to know what 2018 will bring for them?

By the time Nadal was biting the handle of the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday night , his usual way of celebrating a tournament victory, he had raised his career Grand Slam championship count to 16: three at Flushing Meadows, an unprecedented 10 at the French Open (including this June, shortly after turning 31), two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.

That moved him back within three of Federer, whose 19 is the record among men: an unprecedented eight at the All England Club (including in July, shortly before turning 36), five at the U.S. Open, four at the Australian Open (including in January) and one at Roland Garros.

“Of course, (it’s) something difficult to imagine, eight months ago or nine months ago, that we will be winning two Grand Slams each,” Nadal said. “But here we are.”

Indeed, in January, it sure appeared that the two greats of the game had left their best days behind.

As of Monday, they are ranked 1-2 .

Federer began this season at No. 16, having missed the last half while letting his back and left knee heal.

Nadal was No. 9, having pulled out after the second round of the French Open and skipped Wimbledon entirely because of an injured left wrist.

“When you get (an) injury,” Nadal said, “then (it) seems like the season is a disaster.”

Federer began 2017 having gone 4+ years without a Grand Slam title.

Nadal’s drought without so much as one appearance in a major semifinal had stretched to about 2+ years.

By the end of the Australian Open, though, they were squaring off to decide the title.

It was the pair’s ninth Grand Slam final against each other – it’s happened at least twice at each major except the U.S. Open, where they have never met – but first since the 2011 French Open.

At the time, Nadal said Sunday, “I was surprised.”

But he wasn’t taken aback by what he and Federer were able to do later in the year. It was clear – to Nadal, to everyone – that they were once again capable of being the dominant figures in their sport.

“To come back and win all four Grand Slams was quite an achievement, regardless of how good they are. There is a lot of very tough competition,” said Kevin Anderson, the first-time major finalist who failed to put up too much of a fight in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 loss to the No. 1-ranked Nadal.

“When they’re healthy, I think they have so many skills they can rely on. In addition to that is just the amount of experience they have had,” Anderson said. “Playing at this level, I think they feel very comfortable, and obviously they might get nervous, but just like anything, the more you do it, the more used to it you get.”

It didn’t hurt that the three men who are next in the pecking order all had down years and injury issues: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. All missed the U.S. Open. All could return to contention for big prizes next year.

Add in that trio’s major totals (Djokovic has 12, Murray and Wawrinka three apiece), and since the start of the 2005 French Open, the top five men have won 49 of the past 51 Grand Slam championships.

Still, after all this time, there are still two who stand alone at the top: Rafa and Roger.

“There is just two things that probably we share – that is passion for what we are doing, passion for tennis , passion for the competition,” Nadal said, “and the spirit of improvement all the time.”

The question was put to him Sunday night: How important is it for you to catch Federer in the race for most Grand Slam titles?

“I really never thought much about that. I just do my way. He does his way,” Nadal responded. “Let’s see when we finish, no?”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Anderson beats Querrey to win New York Open title

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Kevin Anderson had already dealt with the disappointment of falling short in a final in New York.

His surprising run to the U.S. Open final last summer jump-started his climb back into the top 10, but his loss to Rafael Nadal was a painful reminder that he kept coming up short at the finish line.

Back in New York this week, he finally got the ending he wanted.

The top seed won the first New York Open on Sunday, beating No. 2 seed Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) for his fourth career ATP Tour title.

Anderson came into Sunday 3-11 in ATP Finals, with one loss already this year.

“I have been runner-up quite a few times in my career,” Anderson said. “One of the big goals I had for this year was to try to be a bit more successful in that final stage. I fell a little short earlier this year in India and it feels great to come through and get today’s win. So, gives me a lot of confidence for the year.”

The South African dominated the tiebreaker after a tight third set, winning the first six points and leading Querrey to slam his racket to the court in frustration.

Anderson will move to career-high ninth in the ATP rankings Monday, continuing a strong rise that began in nearby Flushing Meadows when he reached his lone Grand Slam final as the world’s No. 32 player, the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the inception of the rankings in 1973.

He won his first title since 2015, when he made his only other appearance in the top 10 when he was ranked 10th for one week in October. Anderson won four consecutive three-set matches in the tournament’s first year at Nassau Coliseum after moving from Memphis, Tennessee.

“Obviously, during U.S. Open was a terrific few weeks for me. It was tough to lose in the finals so it feels very special to get today’s win,” Anderson said.

Querrey remained at 10 ATP titles, snapping a three-match winning streak in finals. He would have risen to a career-best No. 11 with a victory.

Querrey had held serve in 37 of 38 games entering this week before Anderson broke him in the second game of the final for a 2-0 lead. Querrey broke right back and broke Anderson again later in the set to move ahead.

The second set started the same way. Anderson broke again in the second game, but this time held in the third to seize control of the set en route to a 5-0 lead.

“I just kind of lost a little bit of momentum,” Querrey said. “He picked his game up, he started making a few more first serves. Feel like he was hitting the ball a little bigger, making a few more. Then I kind of got some momentum back at the end of the second there but it was kind of too little, too late.”

In the doubles final, the second-seeded team of Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Philipp Oswald of Austria edged Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Artem Sitak of New Zealand 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 in a match tiebreaker. For the 40-year-old Mirnyi, it was his 100th career ATP Tour final, with 96 having come in doubles.

Federer overpowers Dimitrov to win 97th career title

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Roger Federer came to the ABN AMRO World Tournament aiming to secure a return to the top of the world rankings. He achieved that goal Friday. On Sunday, he put an exclamation point on a remarkable week by winning the tournament for good measure.

Federer overpowered an ailing Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour to win his 97th career title.

“What a week it’s been. Absolutely amazing,” Federer said. “The goal was to make the semis and I won the tournament so of course I’m incredibly excited and so, so happy.”

The 36-year-old Swiss extended his domination over the player once dubbed “Baby Fed” for the similarities in their playing style, registering his seventh victory in as many meetings.

Federer’s third title at the Rotterdam tournament comes a day before he officially returns to the top of the rankings, more than five years after he was last world No. 1.

He will become the oldest person to hold the No. 1 position when the rankings are updated on Monday. It’s been more than five years since Federer was last No. 1, and 14 years since he first reached the top spot.

Federer, who has 20 Grand Slams to his name, said his next target is 100 career titles. He moved a step closer Sunday.

Federer said ahead of the final that the more aggressive player would win and Dimitrov started the strongest, winning his first game to love as he slammed powerful forehands and backhands past Federer.

But the Swiss great quickly started matching Dimitrov’s groundstrokes and converted his first break point in the fifth game. Federer broke Dimitrov again to go up 5-2 and then served out the set.

Federer kept the pressure on Dimitrov in the second set, breaking the Bulgarian in the first game and continuing to dominate on his way to victory in just 55 minutes.

Federer won a massive 82 percent of points on his service compared to 55 percent for Dimitrov.

After his strong start, the Bulgarian appeared to be struggling physically, but said afterward that he simply wasn’t good enough.

“Against Roger in the current situation he is in you can’t play any less than 100 percent,” Dimitrov said.