Summer's Standouts Nadal & Medvedev Aptly Meet In US Open Final
Second-seeded Spaniard Rafael Nadal and fifth-seeded Russian Daniil Medvedev have been the most dominant players during the North American hard-court swing. They've also racked up more wins than any other players on Tour this year. Fittingly, they have set themselves for a championship clash at the US Open when they meet in Sunday’s final.
Their showdown in Arthur Ashe Stadium is a rematch of last month’s Coupe Rogers final, which saw Nadal drop just three games for his fifth title in Canada. Rather than intimidate the Russian, the experience facing Nadal has only energised him for his first Grand Slam final.
“Talking about Rafa, it's tough to find words,” Medvedev said. “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. To play him in your first Grand Slam final should be… an amazing thing to live.”
Many tennis fans cited Medvedev as the biggest chance outside the Big 3 to take the title, but the 23-year-old downplayed his chances and pointed out that he hadn’t reached a Grand Slam quarter-final. But in his match-by-match approach, Medvedev improved his record to 20-2 during the North American hard-court season by reaching the US Open final.
Medvedev's magical run includes his first Masters 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open (d. Goffin), in addition to finishing runner-up in Montreal (l. to Nadal) and at the Citi Open (l. to Kyrgios). He is the only player on Tour to achieve 50 match victories this season.
Most Wins On ATP Tour In 2019 (Open Era)
|Player||Total Wins In 2019|
But there’s been little time for Medvedev to ponder his breakthrough because he’s been so busy winning. He seeks to cap off his summer stateside by becoming only the fifth player since 2009 to capture his maiden Grand Slam title.
Grand Slam Final Breakthroughs Since 2009
|Juan Martin del Potro||2009 US Open (d. Federer)|
|Andy Murray||2012 US Open (d. Djokovic)|
|Stan Wawrinka||2014 Australian Open (d. Nadal)|
|Marin Cilic||2014 US Open (d. Nishikori)|
”Of course, deep inside of me, I understand that what I've done these four weeks is amazing, even comparing to what I've done before,” Medvedev said. “I don't want to stop. I will always work to be better. I will try to do my best every day.”
Although Medvedev’s low-bouncing, off-speed shots have frustrated players throughout the year, they seemed to sit up in Nadal’s strike zone in Montreal. But while Nadal has gained plenty of free points on his serve this fortnight, the Russian’s return is one of his greatest strengths and he won’t allow the Spaniard as many free points.
The fifth seed will need to keep the points short and avoid engaging Nadal in prolonged baseline rallies. Medvedev will also need to play his lethal cross-court backhand into the Spaniard’s forehand. Although Nadal is stronger on that side, it will expose his backhand wing and give the Russian more opportunities to attack.
Nadal has been thriving in Arthur Ashe Stadium from the first ball this fortnight, feeding off the energy of the New York crowd and channeling it into his explosive baseline game. The Spaniard already arrived on a high after prevailing in Montreal, but he has looked nearly flawless in his quarter-final and semi-final victories over Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini.
“I think at the beginning of my career have been some tough moments here, losing matches. But since a long time ago, every time that I came here I felt comfortable. I felt very competitive and fighting for the big things,” Nadal said. “I said every single day, but I can repeat: 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.
“When I arrived here, my goal was to produce a chance to compete for the big thing again. Here I am.”
Nadal will want to consider adding even more spin to his shots against Medvedev. Players who hit flat shots don’t like hitting balls above their shoulder, but the Russian has the advantage of being 6’6”. A high ball for most players falls into Medvedev’s strike zone, so the Spaniard will need to add further height in order to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm.
It will also be crucial for Nadal to get off to a fast start. Once he’s come within a set of victory this fortnight, his opponents have appeared resigned to an inevitable defeat and the second seed sprinted to the finish line. Given the volume of matches that Medvedev has played recently, the prospect of rallying from two sets down may appear insurmountable.
After 18 years on tour, Nadal shows no signs of slowing down. He’s one match away from securing his fifth Grand Slam title in his 30s, a feat which would be unprecedented in the Open Era.
30 & Over Grand Slam Title Leaders (Open Era)
|Novak Djokovic||4 (2018 Wimbledon & US Open, 2019 Australian Open & Wimbledon)|
||4 (2012 Wimbledon, 2017 Australian Open & Wimbledon, 2018 Australian Open)|
|Rafael Nadal||4 (2017 Roland Garros, 2017 US Open, 2018-19 Roland Garros)|
|Rod Laver||4 (1969 Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, US Open)|
|Ken Rosewall||4 (1968 Roland Garros, 1970 US Open, 1971-72 Australian Open|
A victory over Medvedev would also give Nadal his 19th Grand Slam title, putting him one shy of all-time leader Federer (20). But regardless of the end result on Sunday, Nadal said he will leave New York with his head high and proud of his efforts.
“Of course, I would love to be the one who wins the most Grand Slams, but I'll still sleep very well without being the one who has the most Grand Slams,” Nadal said. “I am happy about my career. I am very happy about what I'm doing. I'm going to keep working hard to try to produce chances. Sunday is just one more chance.
“You cannot be frustrated or thinking all day about what your neighbor has. You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do it your way."
A CLOSER LOOK AT NADAL vs. MEDVEDEV (Stats Through US Open SFs)
|R. NADAL (2)||D. MEDVEDEV (5)|
|57%||1st Serve %||57%|
|81%||1st Serve Points||77%|
|59%||2nd Serve Points||54%|
|16||Break Points Faced||53|
|92%||Service Games Held||83%|
|39%||1st Return Points Won||33%|
|53%||2nd Return Points Won||55%|
|27||Breaks of Serve||33|
|71||Return Games Played||108|
|38%||Return Games Won %||31%|
|12;18||Time on Court||15:11|