AO 2022: Men serve up high-stakes semis

 - Reem Abulleil

Plenty on the line for Nadal, Berrettini, Medvedev and Tsitsipas.

Matteo Berrettini / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

A quartet of top-seven seeds have made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open and will take to Rod Laver Arena on Friday for two highly-anticipated duels.

World No.2 Daniil Medvedev will face fourth-seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of their 2021 showdown in Melbourne Park at the very same stage, while 2009 champion Rafael Nadal takes on Italian Matteo Berrettini in a repeat of their 2019 US Open last-four clash.

Berrettini (ITA x7) v Nadal (ESP x6)

The only man to have beaten Berrettini in the last three Grand Slams is Novak Djokovic. So when the draw first came out placing the Italian with Djokovic in the same quarter, it looked like once again, Berrettini was destined for a similar fate.

Djokovic withdrew and Berrettini made the most of the opportunity, surviving stomach problems in his opener and battling through 21 sets en route to a maiden Australian Open semi-final.

He is the first Italian man in history to make it to the last four at the tournament and will be looking to stop Nadal from reaching a sixth Australian Open final.

“It makes me super proud. I like to think that I'm writing a little bit Italian tennis history,” said Berrettini after halting an attempted comeback from Gael Monfils by dismissing the Frenchman in five sets in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Berrettini fell to Nadal in their sole previous meeting at the US Open two and a half years ago. It was the Rome native’s first big breakthrough at the majors and he has since become a consistent force, making the quarters or better at his last four Grand Slams.

“I watched him so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him... Playing with him in Rod Laver in semi-finals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid,” said the 25-year-old of Nadal.

“Now I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It's gonna be a really tough one. But I'm in the semis in a Slam for the third time, so it means that this is my level and I want to get further.”

Nadal missed the majority of the second half of the 2021 season with a chronic foot injury that flared up and he admits he did not know whether he would be able to come back to the tour, let alone compete at the Australian Open just a couple of months ago.

He has come a long way since, starting the season with an 8-0 winning record and enters his meeting with Berrettini on the back of a tough four-hour victory over Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals.

He said he was physically “destroyed” at moments during that five-set win and is grateful he has two days off between his quarter-final and semi-final matches.

“We can't forget that I didn't play much tennis for such a long time, no? So under these very hard conditions, is difficult for me,” noted Nadal.

The 35-year-old is now just two wins away from breaking the men’s all-time Grand Slam record by capturing a 21st major. He isn’t too focused on eclipsing Roger Federer and Djokovic though and is just happy to still be alive in the tournament.

“For me, this victory is super important in these circumstances, and be able to win the semi-finals of a Grand Slam after everything is a lot of positive energy for me,” said the Mallorcan.

Key stats: Nadal leads the four semi-finalists, and is third overall in the tournament, in percentage first-serve points won, with an 82% success rate. He has won 95% of his service games. Berrettini sits second on the aces leaderboard this Australian Open with 92 struck through six matches.

Matteo Berrettini and Rafael Nadal at the net at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Tsitsipas (GRE x4) v Medvedev (RUS x2)

In what will be a third Grand Slam meeting between the duo in less than a year, Tsitsipas will be looking to improve on his 2-6 head-to-head record against the reigning US Open champion.

Medvedev came out on top in their Australian Open semi-final 11 months ago but Tsitsipas avenged that defeat with success against the Russian in the Roland-Garros quarter-finals last June.

They’ve come through contrasting quarter-finals on Wednesday with Tsitsipas breezing past Italian world No.10 Jannik Sinner in straight sets in just over two hours and Medvedev battling back from a two-sets-to-love deficit to outlast Canadian world No.9 Felix Auger-Aliassime in four hours and 42 minutes.

“So far it has been the most consistent and the best match I've had on the tournament,” said Tsitsipas after securing a spot in the Australian Open semi-finals for the third time.

The 23-year-old, who has made a quicker than expected recovery from an elbow surgery he underwent last November, talked a big game on Wednesday, declaring he was “in the zone” and raring to go.

“I'm ready for anything,” said Tsitsipas. “I feel like I'm in the zone. I have no plans of getting out of it. It's part of my game.”

Medvedev and Tsitsipas share a bit of a dicey history but Tsitsipas says their relationship has improved after they represented Team Europe together at last year’s Laver Cup.

“We haven't really spoken in the last couple of months, but our relationship is competitors on the court and kind of fighting for the same dream,” added the Greek, who is bidding for a second major final appearance after placing runner-up in Paris last season.

Medvedev is chasing history this weekend as he looks to become the first man in the Open Era to win a second Grand Slam men’s singles title at the very next Grand Slam event.

“It's a good challenge. I'm two matches away,” said the 25-year-old Medvedev.

“I don't really think about it. US Open gave me a lot of confidence, but what I said also is that I'm gonna have tough opponents who will want to try to beat me, and that's what we saw today. Felix was really close. I was on the edge, so I need to continue fighting and try to win next two matches. If it's true, then it will be history. It's perfect.”

Key stats: Medvedev has struck 81 aces en route to the semis, the fifth-highest tally among the entire field. Tsitsipas has broken serve 21 times this tournament. The Greek has played 181 net points (winning 69% of them); only Maxime Cressy has played more.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Roland-Garros 2021 semi-finals© Julien Crosnier/FFT