Sweet 16 for Nadal at the US Open

Rafael Nadal raced to a third US Open title and 16th Grand Slam crown with a 6-3, 6- 3, 6-4 rout of South African giant Kevin Anderson.

The world number one, the champion also in New York in 2010 and 2013, added the US title to the record 10th French Open he captured in June.

Old rival Roger Federer won the season's other two Slams at the Australian Open, beating Nadal in the final, and Wimbledon in an illustration of the two Grand Slam greats' enduring appeal and power.

Nadal's Grand Slam tally is now just three behind Federer's record 19.

In 2008, he won two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, and finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career. He won the French Open without dropping a set and beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in a nearly five-hour marathon considered by many to be the greatest match in tennis history.

On paper, the first nine months of 2017 might not stack up against that season. This was not an Olympic year, and despite winning two Slams and making the final in the third, Nadal, 31, started his year with the bitter taste of an opportunity lost in Melbourne. But 16 years into his professional career, 2017 might be his most meaningful yet.

"Of course, is a very special year, no?" Nadal said afterward. "[I went] a couple of years without winning Slams, couple of years with problems. After couple of years without competing at this very high, high level, very happy to be back -- and emotional year for me.

"And as I said before, thanks to all the people that help me every day. I have a great team and a great family that supports me and believe in me, and that's a great help. Without them, of course is not impossible, but almost."

Toni Nadal, Nadal's uncle, a former pro tennis player, has been by his nephew's side since he put a racket in Rafa's hand at age 3, coaching him through juniors and on to the ATP. Uncle Toni suggested his nephew learn the game left-handed, despite not being a natural lefty, and Rafa stuck with it.

Who Nadal would be without his uncle by his side for the past 28 years is impossible to imagine. As his peers have seen coaching change after coaching change, Uncle Toni has remained a constant in Rafael's player's box. Until now.

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, when he was still a teenager.

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