If Medvedev wins, he would become the first player outside the so-called Big Three—Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal—to win a major championship since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open, a span of 11 Grand Slam tournaments.
The remarkable summer of Daniil Medvedev continued at the U.S. Open on Friday night, as he fought his way into his first Grand Slam final.
Fifth-seeded Medvedev, a lanky and vexing player with an unconventional style, defeated unseeded Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3, in a semifinal under the roof in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Medvedev is the first Russian man to reach the U.S. Open final since Marat Safin won the tournament in 2000.
Safin is also the last Russian man to win a Grand Slam tournament, the 2005 Australian Open. But Medvedev, who gained infamy earlier in the tournament for his boorish on-court behavior, still needs to win three tough sets in order to take home the winner’s trophy.
On Sunday, he will face No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the final. Nadal fought off a game challenge from No. 24 Matteo Berrettini, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-1, and is one win away from capturing his 19th Grand Slam title, which would put him one behind Roger Federer’s record.
Nadal is also searching for his fourth U.S. Open title. Medvedev has faced the left-handed Nadal only once: Last month Nadal beat Medvedev, 6-3, 6-0, in the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. It was the last time Medvedev lost.
“He’s one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport,” Medvedev said of Nadal. “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.”
Nadal was flattered to learn of Medvedev’s praise.
“Always is beautiful to hear nice things from your colleagues,” he said, adding, “I just I hope to be like this on Sunday.”
If Medvedev, 23, can win Sunday, he would become the first player outside the so-called Big Three — Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal — to win a major championship since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 U.S. Open, a span of 11 Grand Slam tournaments.
For a while Friday night, it looked as if Berrettini, also 23, might be able to join Medvedev in that pursuit. Playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal and the first U.S. Open semifinal for an Italian man since 1977, Berrettini showed no fear on the big stage against Nadal.
He saved a set point in the first set and stayed close to the Spaniard shot for shot into the tiebreaker, where he had two set points of his own. But as it often is with Nadal, in the key moments — most notably a 23-shot rally at 6-6 — the opponent blinked first.
Berrettini hit a backhand into the net to give Nadal a set point, and then hit a forehand long. Nadal, knowing the course of the match had changed irreversibly, bent over, pumped both arms and yelled.
It stood in contrast to Medvedev’s muted celebration earlier in the day. As he has been doing since he won in Mason, Ohio, in August, Medvedev calmly walked to the net and shook hands with his opponent.
“I feel like it’s going to be my thing,” Medvedev said. “Just a funny thing with myself, not celebrating after the match and just looking at my team. ‘OK, I won. It’s done.’”
Whether playing the role of villain, good guy or something down the middle, Medvedev just keeps winning. He also reached the finals of his previous three tournaments — in Washington, Montreal and Mason — and has gone 20-2 on hard courts this summer.
“When I was coming to the U.S., I didn’t know it would be that good,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “I have to say, I love USA.”
With that comment, he received more cheers, pushing himself further away from his earlier role as the villain of the tournament. He has repeatedly apologized for his actions in his third-round victory over Feliciano López, when he angrily snatched a towel from a ball person and was seen gesturing with his middle finger.
He insisted those actions were atypical and vowed to become better.
In fact, Medvedev, who likes to play chess, said that when he is away from tennis, he is remarkably calm and reserved.
“To make me angry, you need to do something crazy for one week in a row,” he said. “You need to, I don’t know, come to my hotel, knock on my door at 6 in the morning for seven days in a row. Then I’m going to be maybe mad a little bit. If not, I’m really calm.”
On the court, Medvedev is known for his wide variety of shots, including a hard, flat backhand and a forehand characterized by an unusual windup and follow-through. He has the ability to force opponents into mistakes, either through mishits or poor decisions. Dimitrov, who had beaten Federer three nights before, demonstrated both Friday.
“He’s awkward to play against,” Jim Courier, the television analyst and four-time major champion, said of Medvedev. “It’s quirky. He’s sneaky fast. Obviously, clever and a natural gamer. There’s no question that he played chess in his developing years, and he has translated those skills onto the tennis court.”
Now the task of solving Medvedev falls to Nadal, who could draw tantalizingly close to Federer and raise the possibility of passing him next year.
“Of course, I would love to be the one who achieves more Grand Slams,” Nadal said. “But I still sleep very well without being the one who have more Grand Slams. 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 one. It’s just one more chance, that’s all.
“My opponents are going to keep playing. If I’m able to win on Sunday, it will be amazing. If I lose, I hope to keep having chances in the future.”
© 2019 The New York Times