US Open: Medvedev the master of winning ugly, but needs something special against imperious Nadal
Daniil Medvedev will become the first Russian man in 14 years to contest a Grand Slam final when he faces Rafael Nadal in the US Open on Sunday, but to stand any chance of victory the in-form youngster must reach new heights.
Medvedev, 23, is on a blistering run of form which he has capped in New York by becoming the youngest men’s Grand Slam finalist in nine years, and the first for his country since Marat Safin in Australia in 2005.
It will be the 6ft 6in Russian’s fourth successive appearance in a tournament final and seventh in total this year. No other man on the tour has won as many matches as Medvedev in 2019.Also on rt.com Russia’s Medvedev marches into US Open final with straight sets win over Dimitrov
In reaching Sunday’s showpiece at Flushing Meadows, fifth seed Medvedev has overcome injury, fatigue and a bellicose New York crowd (more on which below) – but most of all he has mastered the art of winning ugly.
His semifinal victory over former world number three Grigor Dimitrov was a classic case in point: the Bulgarian played the highlights-reel shots, but Medvedev stepped up on the big points, as has done throughout the past two weeks in New York.
Anyone looking at the first-set stats in particular would have been baffled as to how the giant Russian had ended up taking the set: Dimitrov had a higher first-serve percentage, hit more winners, and made fewer unforced errors – but lost the set on a tie-break.
A look at the match highlights will show glorious drop shots from the Bulgarian and a large smattering of double-faults from Medvedev (he has 46 in his six matches at Flushing Meadows) – but also a doggedness from the Russian to grind down his opponent.
That was summed up with the pair’s stunning 39-shot rally during the ninth game of the second set: Medvedev dug in, won the exchange, held serve and then broke his opponent to take the set in the next game. From there on out, it was too big a mountain to climb for Dimitrov.
Medvedev himself admitted after his injury-hampered quarterfinal against Stan Wawrinka that his victory had been "ugly," but as with his subsequent match against Dimitrov, aesthetics matter little when you are winning matches.
Medvedev's count of 88 aces so far at this year's tournament has helped, of course, and while it may not have been pretty at times, it has been inarguably effective.
That the big-serving Russian is unconcerned with appearances has also been clear from his crowd interactions in New York, where Medvedev has been cast as the villain following exchanges with fans in the third and fourth rounds.
He has responded to jeers by giving the crowd the middle-finger, also giving mocking post-match interviews thanking antagonistic fans for giving him “the energy to win.”
But those exchanges appeared more spontaneous stagecraft than any calculated cynicism or underlying resentment from the Russian, and he has subsequently extended the olive branch to New Yorkers twice, after his quarterfinal and semifinal wins.
In contrast to the likes of Aussie bad boy Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev does not appear keen for the 'villain' tag to stick, and the Russian even declared he “loves the USA” after beating Dimitrov.Also on rt.com ‘I love USA!’ Daniil Medvedev seals peace with New York crowd as he books spot in US Open final
His charm offensive has earned him more cheers rather than jeers, although he will be under no illusion about 18-time Grand Slam winner Nadal's status as a firm fan favorite on Sunday.
In that match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev will be flying the flag for Russia as its first men’s Grand Slam finalist since Safin won in Melbourne in 2005, and its first at the US Open since Safin in 2000.
But Medvedev will also be the standard-bearer for the so-called ‘Next Gen’ of players in men’s tennis, the young crop desperate to break the near-total stranglehold the 'Big Three' of Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic have held at Majors in recent years. No one from outside that trio has picked up any of the last 11 Grand Slams.
However, the form that carries Medvedev into Sunday's final will at least give him a chance of changing that statistic; the Russian has become only the third man in the Open era – after Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi – to reach successive finals in the same season at the Washington Open, Rogers Cup, Cincinnati Masters and US Open.
Medvedev has won 20 out of 22 matches since Wimbledon – a quite incredible run.
.@DaniilMedwed improves to 20-2 on summer hard courts and is the 3rd player in the Open Era to reach the final in Washington (@CitiOpen), Canada (@rogerscup) @CincyTennis and @USOpen in the same season, joining @AndreAgassi in 1995 and Ivan Lendl in 1982.— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) September 6, 2019
But adding to that tally on Sunday will be far easier said than done; Medvedev will meet Nadal – a man also in sensational form, and who has dropped just one set on his run to the final.
With victory in New York, the 33-year-old Spaniard can take his fourth US Open crown and edge to within one title of Roger Federer’s record haul of 20 Grand Slams.
Nadal dismantled Medvedev in their only previous meeting, which came in the final of the Rogers Cup (aka Canadian Open) in mid-August. That day, Nadal won in straight sets, 6-3 6-0.
Ominously, the Spaniard has looked untroubled by injury in New York, while Medvedev has been patched up for his matches, even appearing to be on the brink of quitting in earlier rounds due to a thigh injury and cramp.
Second seed Nadal called the Russian his “toughest test” yet at Flushing Meadows, but the Spaniard himself is famously the grittiest warrior of his generation, and arguably ever.
The Russian is the younger man, but will still need to draw on all his reserves on Sunday, as well as the adrenaline that the occasion will bring naturally.
After his semifinal, Medvedev admitted he had been “eaten” by Nadal in their previous encounter, but that it would serve as a lesson for him ahead of their Flushing Meadows finale.
“I know what to expect, how to prepare for it,” the Russian said.
In reality, very little in life can prepare any man to face Nadal when he is at his best, but if Medvedev has anything going for him, it’s momentum – and a remarkable knack for winning ugly.