U.S. Open Final: Nadal seeks 19th major, Medvedev eyes first
NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal shrugged his shoulders once, twice, three times. If his words weren’t going to make his position clear, his body language would.
The question: Would he like to end up with the record for most Grand Slam titles won by a man? The answer, essentially: Yes, of course.
And if he doesn’t?
“I would love to be the one to have more, yes, but you cannot be all day frustrated or all day thinking about what your neighbor has better than you,” the 33-year-old Spaniard said after reaching the U.S. Open final to give himself a shot at another major championship. “You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do your way. If you are the one to achieve more, fantastic. If not, at least I give my best during all my career. That’s all.”
If he can beat Daniil Medvedev on Sunday at Flushing Meadows, Nadal will collect his fourth trophy in New York. Of more historical significance is that it would move him within one title of rival Roger Federer in the Slam standings.
Right now, Federer leads the way with 20, Nadal is next with 18 and Novak Djokovic has 16.
“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,” Nadal said. “Sunday is one. It’s just one more chance, that’s all.”
In addition to his trio of U.S. Open triumphs, he already owns 12 titles from the French Open, two from Wimbledon and one from the Australian Open.
This will be the 27th Grand Slam final of the No. 2-seeded Nadal’s career, and the first for No. 5 Medvevev, as 23-year-old from Russia.
Medvedev had never been past the fourth round at a major until now.
“We’re going to prepare this like a normal match, because that’s how Daniil is thinking. I would not talk about ‘first final’ or stuff like that, because it won’t help him,” said Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara. “If he’s in position to win the tournament, maybe he can feel some nervousness. But he’s totally able to manage this and to come on the court with his mind 100% ready to play his best tennis and to win the match.”
Medvedev has been doing a lot of winning lately, playing going 20-2 during the North American hard-court swing and reaching the final at each of his past four tournaments.
That includes a runner-up finish to Nadal at the Montreal Masters in August by a 6-3, 6-0 score.
“We have to try to do good things to beat him,” said one of Nadal’s coaches, Francisco Roig, who then added with a laugh: “I’m not going to tell you which things.”
What the 6-foot-6 (1.97-meter) Medvedev has grabbed the most attention for during the past two weeks is his interactions with the crowds at Flushing Meadows. During a third-round victory over Feliciano Lopez, he drew the ire of spectators for angrily grabbing a white towel from a ballperson and later holding up his middle finger against his face. They began booing during the match, then really let him hear it at the end. Medvedev basked in the jeers, antagonizing people even more by saying their negativity helped him win.
A similar scenario played out after his next win, too. Since then, Medvedev has been apologetic about his trolling and much calmer during matches, while playing deliciously defensive tennis that he can abandon to be more aggressive when he deems necessary.
“After these matches, I was like, ‘I don’t want to lose these matches because I get crazy or because I lose some concentration because of the fans, because of the referees (or) something that happens during the match,” Medvedev said. “I want to lose matches because I was a (worse) tennis player on the court than my opponent.”
He spoke about getting good preparation for facing Nadal by already having beaten three other left-handers in New York.
But taking on Nadal is an entirely different task.
Here’s the way Matteo Berrettini, the 23-year-old Italian who lost to Nadal in the semifinals, described what awaits Medvedev:
“He has a heavy forehand. Very fast backhand. His backhands gave me a lot of trouble. They arrived strong and fast. His serve is a shot that is underrated. Nobody says, ‘Nadal has a great serve.’ But it bothers you. He changes angles a lot. And he’s a lefty, so it comes with a different spin. And then, that first shot he hits after he serves hurts you.”
Those characteristics have carried Nadal to 18 Grand Slam championships so far. One more victory, and that’ll change to 19. And then, perhaps, Nadal can start to think about No. 20.