© Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal strikes 31 winners en route to a straight-sets win against Matteo Berrettini in the US Open semi-finals.

Nadal Sets Blockbuster Clash Against Medvedev In US Open Final

Spaniard will try to win his 19th Grand Slam title on Sunday

Three-time champion Rafael Nadal on Friday evening set a blockbuster US Open final against No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev in what will be a matchup of two of the hottest hard-court players in the world. Nadal battled past first-time major semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-1 under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"The first set was a little frustrating because I had a lot of break points before the tie-break and he didn't have any. In the tie-break I was a little lucky because he had 5/2 and 4/0. But I survived at that moment and I finally got the break in the second and then the match completely changed," Nadal said during his on-court interview. "I started to play with more calm and be more aggressive. I'm super happy to be back in the final of the US Open."

Medvedev (50) and Nadal (46) lead the ATP Tour in wins this season, and the pair split the two North American summer hard-court ATP Masters 1000 titles. Nadal, who is into his 27th major final, defeated Medvedev to triumph at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, and then the Russian bounced back to lift his first trophy at that level at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

 Player  Grand Slam Finals
 1. Roger Federer  31 (20-11)
 2. Rafael Nadal  27 (18-8)
 3. Novak Djokovic  25 (16-9)
 4. Ivan Lendl  19 (8-11)
 5. Pete Sampras  18 (14-4)

Looking ahead to meeting Medvedev, Nadal said, "He's making steps forward every single week. He's having an amazing summer, winning Cincinnati and making the final in Montreal and Washington and now the final here. He's been playing the best tennis on tour this summer so he will be the toughest opponent in the final. I need to be playing at my best. But in a Grand Slam final you can't expect an easy opponent.

"For me it means a lot to be back where I am today after some tough moments at the beginning of the season."

To set his second FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against the World No. 5, Nadal withstood a game effort from Berrettini, the No. 24 seed, who had never previously reached the quarter-finals of a major. The Italian earned two set points in the opening-set tie-break, but Nadal played lockdown defence to stave off those chances, and he never looked back from there.

Nadal has been in devastating form since arriving in New York, losing just one set in his six victories, and that came in the fourth round against Marin Cilic, who earned the crown here five years ago. The 33-year-old is into his fifth final in Flushing Meadows.

"Before playing the final is not the moment to be super happy. Of course, finally when the tournament finishes, if you lose, when you're looking global perspective, okay. But now is a moment to enjoy today," Nadal said. "But [there] is a match in front on Sunday, an important one. I just focus on trying to be 100 per cent ready for it. But, of course, very, very happy for everything. Another final of the Grand Slam, and another final here in Flushing Meadows means a lot to me."

This was the fifth time in his career Nadal was the lone member of the Big 3 to reach a Grand Slam semi-final. On the other four occasions, Nadal went on to win the title (2010, 2017-18 Roland Garros, 2017 US Open).

Rafa Nadal Foundation

The 18-time major winner won his first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with Berrettini after two hours and 35 minutes. Nadal played a clean match, striking 31 winners to only 18 unforced errors, and winning the point on 17 of his 21 trips to the net.

After a double fault from the World No. 2 to start the first-set tie-break, Berrettini threw everything he had at the Spaniard, using his arsenal of weapons from the baseline to take a commanding 4/0 lead. But as always, Nadal battled hard and would not let slip the set without a fight.

Berrettini earned two set points at 6/4. On his first opportunity, the Italian clipped the tape on a forehand approach shot, and he hit an ensuing backhand volley into the net. On the next point, Berrettini carved a backhand drop shot into the net. And from there, Nadal raised his defensive walls high, putting ball after ball back into the court until the three-time ATP Tour titlist made two more unforced errors to give the second seed the opener after a physical 73 minutes.

"My goal was to win the point of the 4/0 to 4/1 with my serve. Of course with 5/0, another mini break against.. it's done. My goal in that moment is to put the first point on my score and then win one of the next two points on the return at least. Then you are 5/2. You are in a tough situation, but if you are able to win the next two points with your serve, then you are 5/4," Nadal said. "The opponent still has two serves to win the set. But from 4/0 to 5/4 is a completely different perspective because then the opponent has the pressure, too. That was my goal.

"Then [it] was 6/4, and I was lucky with that point. He played a very aggressive couple of points, and I was able to hold it well, not miss at least, and put one more ball in in that moment. Lucky to win that first set in the tie-break."

Buy 2019 <a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/tournaments/us-open/560/overview'>US Open</a> Tennis Tickets

Berrettini could only sit on his chair and smile between sets, knowing the chance he had to take the lead against the legendary lefty. Although he did not suffer much of a letdown, Nadal earned the first break of the match at 3-3 in the second set, when the Italian missed into the net. 

Nadal did not struggle much to take a commanding lead from there, holding to love to earn a two-set advantage. The 83-time tour-level titlist did not face a break point in the match.

Berrettini battled hard, saving nine of the 10 break points he has faced. But Nadal has put up a nearly impenetrable defence. The Italian crushed 30 winners in the first two sets, including 16 off his powerful forehand wing, but Nadal made just 15 unforced errors during that time, making Berrettini earn every point he won.

Nadal needed more than two hours to get through the first two sets, but it only took him 31 minutes to finish off the Italian. The Spaniard broke twice in the final set, and began to play more aggressively himself. At 4-1, 30/0, Berrettini played a smart lob over his head. But Nadal chased it down and whipped an inside-out forehand for a clean winner as he spun around. It was that kind of night for Nadal, who has made the championship match in five of his 11 tournaments this year.

"Winning the first set would have meant I think a lot. Especially with him, it's tough to go a set down after an hour, more than an hour," Berrettini said. "But I was feeling I was playing really good, even though he had a lot of chances on my serve. I think I played also good [on the] important points. I mean, I was brave, like I asked to myself. I couldn't say anything bad. I cannot complain about what I did. I was playing with Rafa, centre court, in semis. I think it's okay."

Did You Know?
Nadal continues to extend his lead in the ATP Race To London over Novak Djokovic. Nadal now has 8,425 points, putting him 1,160 points ahead of second-placed Djokovic (7,265), who retired in his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka due to injury.

More stories like this in: