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Daniil Medvedev will try to win his first Grand Slam title on Sunday against Rafael Nadal.

Kafelnikov: Medvedev 'Needs To Shorten Points' vs. Nadal

Former No. 1 reflects on Medvedev's run of success and what it means for Russian tennis

Former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov first saw Daniil Medvedev at the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow three years ago. At the time, all he knew was that Medvedev had left Russia to train in France.

“He was struggling with finding a good coach and a good place to practise,” Kafelnikov told ATPTour.com. “He made the right choice to move away and practise somewhere else.”

Now, Medvedev is into his first Grand Slam final at the US Open. The 23-year-old will face Rafael Nadal on Sunday in Arthur Ashe Stadium for his first major trophy.

Before the tournament, the Russian’s best Slam run was a fourth-round appearance at this year’s Australian Open. But Medvedev is in position to become the first man from his country to win a major championship since Marat Safin did so in Melbourne in 2005.

“It looks like he got mature and he understands that he needs to take every opportunity that tennis has presented him,” Kafelnikov said. “I hope he will have many more finals to come, but I want him to approach the match tomorrow like he perhaps will never have that chance again, leave everything on the court. [I want him to feel] that after the match he will have no regrets with what he’s done in that match. That’s how I want him to play.”

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Kafelnikov doesn’t want Medvedev to compete against Nadal as if he has nothing to lose, even if this is Nadal’s 27th Slam final and the Russian’s first.

“If you want to just go and have fun on the court, it’s not going to cut it. You’re not going to win against Rafa,” Kafelnikov said. “You need to go on the court with the mindset, ‘Okay, I’ve got a game plan. I need to stick to that game plan and execute it.’”

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Medvedev arrives in Sunday’s final with the most wins on the ATP Tour in 2019 (50) as well as the most victories on hard courts (37).

“Of course tomorrow we all understand that Rafa is a huge favourite to win the title. But I hope that Daniil will put up a good fight,” Kafelnikov said. “It all depends how he’s going to serve. I think his first-serve percentage will be the key to the match.”

In the first set of his semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov, Medvedev landed just 40 per cent of his first serves. That nearly cost him, but the Russian edged into the lead by taking a tie-break, eventually triumphing in straight sets.

“His first-serve percentage was about 40 and if you want to beat Nadal, even on that surface, you need to put a better percentage [to have a chance], 60 per cent first-serve percentage,” Kafelnikov said. “Daniil’s game has been that the longer the rally goes, the better chance that Daniil has to win the point. Tomorrow is going to be the opposite. The longer the rallies go, Nadal will destroy him. So Daniil needs to shorten up the points, come into net as much as he can. It’s completely opposite of his game, I know, but that’s the only chance he can beat Nadal tomorrow.”

Medvedev is part of a rising generation of Russian stars — including Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev — all of whom have competed in the Next Gen ATP Finals. But Kafelnikov admits that technique-wise, Medvedev is not the cleanest of the group.

“His fundamentals are not so fluid like Rublev and some other talented players, like Wawrinka, for example,” Kafelnikov said. “But the main thing he’s got is good will, and that’s the most important thing. He’s taken the maximum out of his potential. That’s a sign of a very intelligent and solid player.”

Earlier in this tournament, Medvedev admitted to dealing with an issue with his quadriceps. In his first major quarter-final, he faced a stiff test against three-time Slam winner Stan Wawrinka. Then, the Russian played a former Nitto ATP Finals champion in Dimitrov. But Medvedev has kept up his impressive run, moving to 20-2 during this North American summer hard-court swing.

“He continued winning matches. We have seen the signs where he was struggling health-wise… he was struggling in the quarter-finals and he toughed it out,” Kafelnikov said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do, and I’m quite pleased to see it from Daniil.”

This is also an important moment for Russian tennis, as it’s been more than a decade since Safin claimed glory at the Australian Open. In his first Grand Slam final, Kafelnikov became the first Russian man to earn major glory at 1996 Roland Garros.

“I approached that final like I would never have that opportunity ever again. The same thing might happen to Daniil. I hope not. I hope he’s going to have many more Grand Slam finals to come,” Kafelnikov said. “I just don’t want him to go tomorrow on the court and feel like, ‘Ooh, I have Rafa on the other side and I’ve got no chance to win.’”

Kafelnikov says that there’s plenty of excitement in Russia, noting that Channel One, one of the biggest stations in the country, will carry the match. Kafelnikov points to Karen Khachanov cracking the Top 10 this year and Andrey Rublev beating Roger Federer in Cincinnati and then Stefanos Tsitsipas in New York.

“It was meant to happen sooner rather than later. We’re quite lucky that Daniil has done it sooner,” Kafelnikov said of the 23-year-old making a major final. “The main thing is that it’s a good rivalry now in Russian men’s tennis between Rublev, Khachanov and Medvedev. It seems to me they’re pushing one another, and that’s the reason why Daniil has been so successful over the past six weeks in the U.S.

“It’s a very healthy rivalry. They’re good friends off the court and rivals on the court… here in Russia we are very lucky to have those three guys for hopefully the next 10 years or so, [and I hope] that they can do some damage in men’s tennis.”