US Open 2019: Daniil v Goliath — First-time finalist Medvedev takes on Rafael Nadal in battle of generations

  • Marat Safin destroyed the odds to beat Pete Sampras in the final of the 2000 US Open to become the first Russian man to win the US Open.

  • With Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer not even making it to the semi-final, Nadal has taken over as the overwhelming favourite.

  • Medvedev had the Tour-highest of 50 wins this year and has made the most number of finals (7).

Earlier this week, Daniil Medvedev revealed from where he learnt his 'bad boy' behaviour, which has created quite a stir with the New York crowd.

"Watching Marat (Safin) when we were young, that's why we threw racquet," Medvedev told the press. "You're watching him and you think it's cool. You think, 'Okay, I'm going to be like Marat, I'm going to break my racquet right now.'"

 US Open 2019: Daniil v Goliath — First-time finalist Medvedev takes on Rafael Nadal in battle of generations

Daniil Medvedev goes into the US Open final against Rafael Nadal as the underdog. AP

Medvedev, dubbed the 'Russian troll' for his confrontational behaviour, has shed the villainy, apologized to the tennis fans, and even went as far as saying, "I love the USA!" after he defeated Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets on Friday evening to enter the US Open final. The 23-year-old, though, would want to emulate Safin in more ways than one.

As a 20-year-old, Safin had destroyed the odds to beat American legend Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the final of the 2000 US Open to become the first Russian man to win the US Open. Sampras was a 13-time major champion by then, and one of the greatest in the sport, but had no answer to the nerveless, lights-out tennis his young opponent was playing. Safin’s one hours 38 minute sweep remains one of the most stunning wins at the hard-court Slam.

Medvedev, the first Russian man to enter a major final since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open, faces similar, if not longer, odds as he takes on Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s title clash. Not only does Nadal have 18 Grand Slam titles to his name, he is looking more intimidating than ever in New York.

With Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer not even making it to the semi-final, the World No 2 has taken over as the overwhelming favourite. Of his 26 previous major finals, Nadal has played in nine that haven’t featured either Djokovic and Federer. He has lost only one of them (to Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open) and won six in straight sets.

Serving better and playing more aggressively, Nadal has raced into the US Open final for the loss of only one set. And it had taken a big effort from 2014 champion Marin Cilic to wrestle that set away from Nadal in the fourth round. Nadal, 33, beat another 23-year-old, Matteo Berrettini 7-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the semi-final on Friday to stay in the hunt for his fourth US Open crown.

Nadal's coach, Francis Roig talked about the big strides his ward had taken on hard courts. "I believe he has taken a step forward and found his footing, specifically on hard courts," Roig told the ATP Tour website.

"Rafa is feeling more complete now on the faster hard courts. He has much more confidence in his serve and has managed to boost the speed of both his first and second serves. This affords him many "easy" points. He's also improved his all-court game and feels more sure of himself when approaching the net and volleying. These days, he's dictating play more; he shouldn't be playing the 'sit back and wait' game. I think he is realizing the value of building up a point with a more pointed attack and he's evolving into a more well-rounded player in the process."

His improvement has reflected in the results: Nadal has won 22 matches and lost only three on hard courts this season. The Spaniard played only one tune up event for the US Open, the Rogers Cup, and went home with another Masters title. Nadal handed Medvedev a 6-3, 6-0 defeat in the final in Montreal.

A beaten Medvedev had simply said, "I need to do better next time."

'Next time' has come much sooner than he would have expected. Medvedev, a Next Genner, who had never previously gone past a fourth round at the majors, now finds himself in the finals of the US Open, at the biggest stadium in the world. And he has earned it.

The Russian with a self-confessed 'unconventional game', has worked hard to strengthen physically and mentally for the grind of the pro tour. He has given up the wonderful world of sweets, indulging briefly only once a tournament ends, and is reaping the benefits of working with a mind coach. The result: Medvedev had the Tour-highest of 50 wins this year and has made the most number of finals (7).

"It's really tough mentally. That's what I've been missing before," the Moscow native said. "I felt like it's just so tough to win a five-set match. I knew I was going the right way, I just had to fight for every set, for every point. Didn't work out before. But here, this week, everything has worked out. I won a lot of four-set matches, which shows how great mentally I was here, and physically, also."

The Russian has been the most successful player in the US Open hard court series this season and became only the fourth player to make the finals of Washington Open, Canadian Masters, Cincinnati Masters and the US Open in the same year.

"He's making steps forward every single week," Nadal, who has the second most wins (47) this season, said of Medvedev. "He's having an amazing summer. He's been playing the best tennis on tour this summer so he will be the toughest opponent in the final. I need to be playing at my best. But in a Grand Slam final you can't expect an easy opponent."

Medvedev won the title in Cincinnati for his first Masters crown. He has won a lot, which means he had ended up playing a lot of matches as well. The Sunday final against Nadal will be his 23rd match in just over 30 days. The good news is he has won 20 of those. The bad news he has had quadriceps and adductor issues, which he has tried to dull with painkillers at the Open.

If the final turns into a physical battle, which Nadal will invariably attempt to make it, Medvedev will have little chance. He may have to take a trick or two out of Safin’s playbook to slay this giant.

Updated Date: Sep 08, 2019 14:11:17 IST