The No. 1 seed beat No. 28 Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in 2 hours, 28 minutes to win the men's championship on a sun-kissed day before 25,755 in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The crowd included Tiger Woods, who sat in Nadal's player box, Jerry Seinfeld, Tony Bennett and Candice Bergen.
For Nadal, 31, it was his third U.S. Open title (2010, '13), his second major of the year after he won the French Open and the 16th Grand Slam title of his career. His arch rival Roger Federer, who lost here in the quarterfinals, remains the all-time men's leader with 19 majors. With the win, Nadal also solidified his grip on the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Nadal won the title -- and its $3.7 million prize money -- without facing a top-10 seed during the tournament, the first time that has happened for a men's champion at a Grand Slam in the Open Era. He improved to 16-7 in Grand Slam finals, while Anderson is 0-1 after reaching his maiden major final.
The win also means Toni Nadal, the player's uncle and longtime coach, will go out on top as a coach. Toni Nadal is stepping down as Rafael's traveling coach after this season.
"It's been an amazing season of course after a couple years with some troubles, injuries, tough moments," Nadal told ESPN before the final. "Yeah, this year since the beginning has been a very emotional year. Means everything to me to be back in this amazing court in front of amazing crowd. (To) have the chance to fight for another title here is so important for me."
Nadal's return to No. 1 in the world this year included his 10th titles at the French Open and also in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He reached the Australian Open final in January, losing to Federer in five sets, and in the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he fell to Giles Muller by 15-13 in the fifth set.
Anderson, who played college tennis at the University of Illinois and resides in Gulf Stream, Fla., became the first South African man to reach a Grand Slam final since Kevin Curren advanced to the Wimbledon final in 1985. Cliff Drysdale, in 1965, was the last South African to reach the final of the U.S. Championships.
The bottom half of the draw opened up after No. 2 Andy Murray withdrew before the tournament with a hip injury, joining top players Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori on the injured list.
No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 5 Marin Cilic then lost during the first week of the tournament. The big-serving Anderson took advantage and took out American Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals and Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, the No. 12 seed, in the semis.
In the first set against Nadal, Anderson tried to mix things up by serving-and-volleying, but Nadal broke Anderson's huge serve twice, winning the set on a lovely backhand drop volley winner.
Nadal then broke Anderson in the sixth game of the second set when he approached and smashed a forehand volley winner. On set point, he stroked a forehand crosscourt winner.
In the third set, Nadal broke Anderson immediately in the first game when the South African smacked a forehand long on break point.
On match point, Nadal closed it out with a backhand volley winner.