US OPEN Live :: Medvedev’s run to the final has been drama filled from his cramping to incurring the wrath of the crowd but his semi final had none of that as he eased past Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. The Bulgarian looked the better player for parts of the match but when it really mattered, it was Medvedev who stepped up in the clutch. He saved set point in the first set of the 7-6 6-4 6-3 win and looked far more confident after taking the first set.
Medvedev has been on a tear this summer with this being his fourth straight final, having lost in Washington and Montreal before taking the Cincinnati Masters title. “It’s really tough mentally. That’s what I’ve been missing before. Before my best slam result was fourth round. I felt like it’s just so tough to win a five-set match. I knew I was going the right way, I just had to fight for every set, for every point. Didn’t work out before.” He said on what has changed. “But here, this week, everything has worked out. I won a lot of four-set matches, which shows how great mentally I was here, and physically also.”
Matteo Berrettini put up a feisty performance against Nadal early on but after failing to convert set points in the first set, it was all Nadal in the 7-6 6-4 6-1 victory. After some uncharacteristic struggles in the quarter finals against Diego Schwartzman, the serve was back in style for Nadal in this one. He didn’t face a single break point while winning 90% of his first serve points. “I feel comfortable here, I like the atmosphere, I like the crowd. I feel a big energy when I am playing in this Arthur Ashe Stadium. Yeah, just can say thanks to the crowd because honestly I feel a big support from them all the time. That’s important for me.” he said on what it means to play in New York.
One thing seems for sure is that Medvedev will not lose the match in the locker room or through distractions, with the Russian’s mentality much improved from his volatility that hindered him in past tournaments. He puts that down to a number of things including the addition of an extra coach to his team. “She’s helping me a lot. I mean, to be honest, my wife helps me a lot. Again, just sitting there with myself. I lost a lot of matches in my career when I was getting crazy. You never know when you lose a match just because you lost it or because you get crazy and lost some concentration. You can never be sure about it.” he said.
The similarities with Medvedev and Novak Djokovic are there to see and it feels like the Russian could be the one that replaces him in having some of the epic encounters that have defined this era of tennis. As for this match, the matchup with Nadal has not been to kind to him in the past. Back in the Montreal final earlier this year, Nadal was dominant in victory, never being troubled in a 6-3 6-0 win. “Here the wind is not there. I don’t know. Of course, helps little bit. But honestly, I think he’s making the steps forward every single day.” he said referring to that match “Is a super tough final. I need to be playing at my best. I think at the end of the match I increased my level again today. I need to hold this level if I want to have chances on Sunday. If not, is so difficult. He is very, very solid.”
Rafael Nadal can claim a fourth US Open title – and increase his overall haul of major titles to 19 – if he can beat first-time finalist Daniil Medvedev as the fourth and final major of the season reaches its climax on Sunday.
The final is a rematch of the Rogers Cup final in Montreal, when Nadal beat Medvedev – then playing his first Masters 1000 Series final – in one-sided straight sets to successfully defend a hard-court title for the first time in his career.
Nadal celebrates winning the first set against Berrettini (PA Sports)
Nadal is not the defending champion in New York, where he was forced to retire in last year’s semifinals against Juan Martin del Potro after being ground down in lengthy, tough matches with Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. This year’s US Open campaign has been a very different story. Nadal had perfect preparation, winning in Montreal before pulling out of Cincinnati to avoid unnecessary fatigue; he has only played five matches in New York, thanks to a second-round walkover from Thanasi Kokkinakis; he has played competitive matches, but only dropped one set, and has not faced a top-20 player on his way to the final.
Indeed, unless Nadal is hiding an injury we know nothing about, the Spaniard has a clear physical advantage in this final. He has played nine matches since Wimbledon to Medvedev’s 22, 16 sets at the US Open to Medvedev’s, again, 22. It’s a tremendously significant factor, not only because of Medvedev’s physically demanding, grinding style of play; the Russian’s opponents in his last couple of matches, Stan Wawrinka (suffering from flu) and Grigor Dimitrov, have not been able to make Medvedev feel the weight of tennis in his legs. Nadal will.
Nadal hasn’t actually played his best tennis in the last couple of matches. He twice threw away double-break leads against Diego Schwartzman, and against Matteo Berrettini in the semifinals, he was close to losing the first set, having failed to convert six break points (some of them set points) throughout the course of the first 12 games before double-faulting to start the tie-break and trailing 0-4 in the first set tie-break, subsequently having to save set points.
But the germane point is that he, nevertheless, won both those matches in straight sets against determined, quality opponents. Against Berrettini, although the Italian saved break points early in the second set, once Nadal got the break at 3-3 he would only lose two more games. The three-time US Open champion only got stronger, more aggressive and more formidable as he changed up through the gears and his opponent fell away for a 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-1 victory. And the fact is, he can – and probably will – play even better from here.
‘Is a super tough final. I need to be playing at my best. I think at the end of the match I increased my level again today,’ Nadal said on Friday.
‘I need to hold this level if I want to have chances on Sunday. If not, is so difficult. He is very, very solid.’
First-time Grand Slam finalists in men’s tennis – not that there have been many of them – have not fared well recently. Only three men in the past decade have won their first Grand Slam final: Juan Martin del Potro here in 2009, when he beat Roger Federer in five sets; Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open in 2014, who was up against a Nadal struggling with injury; and Marin Cilic at the US Open the same year, who was up against another first-time finalist in Kei Nishikori.
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That’s the challenge that Medvedev faces against Nadal, who has never failed to secure the title when he’s been the last of the Big Three to be left standing at a major.
Now with an ATP Tour-leading 50 match wins under his belt for 2019, having won 20 of his last 22 matches, Medvedev comes into this final extraordinarily high on confidence – confidence that was key to his victory over Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals. Really Medvedev should have lost the first set, which Dimitrov largely dominated in all aspects except the scoreline as he played a smart, well-thought-through game plan which maneouvred the Russian out of position so Dimitrov could attack. But somehow Medvedev squeaked through it in a tie-break, and from that point on Dimitrov began to fall away, abandoning the things that had worked for him in the first set and looking increasingly ineffectual until Medvedev wrapped up the match 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3.
Medvedev in action (PA Sports)
‘I think the confidence means a lot in this case because I do think he was better player in first set. I do think I was kind of lucky to win it,’ Medvedev said afterwards.
‘Then the momentum changed completely. I think after I was playing better than him in the next two sets. We had some amazing level, I think.
‘Yeah, talking about first set, these crucial points, this moment in my game, there is something strong that makes me win these crazy sets and crazy matches.’
Taking on Nadal will be an entirely different kind of challenge, however – as Medvedev found in Montreal when he didn’t drop a set on the way to the final, only to lose 3-6, 0-6 to Nadal.
‘He’s one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport. He’s just a machine, a beast on the court. The energy he’s showing is just amazing,’ Medvedev said.
That Montreal match did take place on a windy day – conditions which suit Nadal – and Medvedev, even in the space of a few weeks, has got much more confident. But I don’t know that the final is going to develop all that differently. The problem for Medvedev is that he relies on being a tremendous defender and, fundamentally, on eliciting errors from his opponents. But Nadal can be just as much of a brick wall at the back of the court, while being supremely skilled in a whole host of attacking options which Medvedev doesn’t have. Medvedev can’t hit through Nadal, and I don’t think he can match him blow for blow – yet – in the way that Djokovic can, while Nadal will be able to press in against Medvedev’s ball, finish points at net and get cheap points with his serve, which is so much improved over the past few years. Medvedev’s only hope, as far as I can see, is to mix things up on serve – something that got him the win over Djokovic in Cincinnati – but pulling off that high-risk play over the best of five sets is a totally different matter from being able to do it for a set and a half. Medvedev’s time may come, but Sunday’s final is going to be Nadal’s moment in New York – again.