Rafael Nadal chasing history (again)

 - Alix Ramsay

Rafael Nadal defeated Matteo Berrettini to qualify for a third Grand slam final this year.

Rafael Nadal smiling as he just qualified for the 2019 US Open final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

It is, as m’learned German colleague pointed out, a carbon copy of the women’s final: a serial Grand Slam champion, a legend in their own right, chasing history against a young, up-and-coming, combative debutant with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Rafa Nadal against Daniil Medvedev on Sunday following on from Serena Williams against Bianca Andreescu on Saturday.

He is not daft, is John Bagratuni of the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.


Just one major behind?

When the draw was made, no one imagined that one of the toughest opponents Nadal would have to face would be Diego Schwartzman, his friend and practice partner. And yet, in the quarter-finals, the world No.2 was pushed and pushed by the dogged Argentine. Come the semi-finals, where Nadal faced the huge talent and the massive power of Matteo Berrettini, it was business as usual. Normal service had been resumed. He won 7-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Should Nadal win on Sunday, he would be just one major title behind Roger Federer, the old GOAT of the tour. Nadal would have 19 Grand Slam titles; Federer has 20. And there is Roland Garros to come just nine months away. GOAT-dom could be up for grabs next summer.

To get to the final, Nadal needed to stamp his authority on his young rival. Berrettini, at just 23 and taking his first strides at this level of the sport, fought as hard as he could but this was the Nadal we have all seen so many times heading towards a final. Yes, the Italian has a walloping serve and a forehand that can break through walls, but this was Nadal homing in on a possible 19th major title.

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

"A little bit frustrating"

The first set was tight, maybe too tight for comfort for the Nadal camp. Their man had to fend off a couple of set points in the tiebreak but they should not have worried. Nadal knew how to do this: he defended for all he was worth when he had to and he pounced on his chances when they came. First set Nadal.

Once he had broken for 4-3 in the second set, it was game over. Berrettini did what he could but there moments when it was the master schooling the student: call that a forehand, Matteo? Take a look at this. Except that Rafa is not that boastful; he just did what he does best and he was sprinting towards the final once that second set break had been secured.

“First set have been a little bit frustrating because I have a lot of break points before the tiebreak,” Nadal said, “and you don’t want to be in a tiebreak against a player like Matteo. I survived that moment and then finally I had a break in the second set after a lot of chances and after that, the match completely changed. I played with more calm and more aggressive and I’m super-happy to be back in the final of the US Open.”

Rafael Nadal hiting a forhand during his semifinal at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Medvedev next

Now he plays Medvedev for the second time this summer in the second final this summer. The Russian snatched the first semi-final from Grigor Dimitrov’s racket strings, winning 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. Dimitrov was the better player in the first set but Medvedev won the tiebreak and from there on, he was the man in charge.

Everything in this past week has been new for Medvedev. His best result in a Grand Slam until he arrived in New York was a fourth-round finish at the Australian Open. Now, in his first final, he has to find a way to stop the mighty Nadal. Nothing to worry about there, then. 

So, Daniil, just what do you think of playing the three-time US Open champion?

“It's tough to find words,” Medvedev said. “So many players and so many people found them before me. 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, I want to say, a funny thing. It's not going to be a funny thing, but it's going to be an amazing thing to live.”

Grigor Dimitrov and Daniil Medvedev at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

A fascinating weekend

He knows what to expect, too. When they went toe-to-toe in the Masters 1000 final in Montreal, it did not end well for the Russian – he lost 6-3, 6-0 – but he got the chance to see, up close and personal, what Rafa is like when is within touching distance of a trophy.

“His energy was much higher than mine,” Medvedev said (he is brutally honest at times). “He kind of, I would say, eaten me on the court because the start was kind of similar.

“I had one breakpoint, then he got a break, but I only lost with one break. Then he was only going harder, harder, faster, stronger, and I was only going down.

“It's great that I have this experience playing him in the final of a Masters. I know what to expect. I know how to prepare for it.”

Rafa and Daniil, Serena and Bianca – it should be a fascinating weekend.