Matteo Berrettini saved break point and break point in the first set, and then when the big Italian went up 4-0 in the ensuing tiebreaker, Rafael Nadal fans were nervous. Real nervous. Berrettini was bombing his serve, cracking his forehand and often keeping Nadal off balance with drop shots for the first 90 minutes of their US Open semifinal.
From 5-2 down in the break, Nadal began his climb back, saving two set points (one on Berrettini’s serve) then finally putting the 23-year-old away.
It continued in the second, more break points for Rafa left unconverted, but playing in his first Slam semifinal and just 48 hours after an epic win over Gael Monfils, you could send the flood gates would open.
Finally, on his 10th try, Nadal broke to go up 4-3 in the second and won 10 of the last 12 games going away for a 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-1 victory.
Nadal finished just 4/16 on break chances but only dropped four points on his first serve with 31 winners to 18 unforced.
“He played very aggressive couple of points, and I was able to hold it well, not miss at least, and put one more ball in in that moment,” Nadal said about recovering from 4-0 in the breaker. “Lucky to win that first set in the tiebreak, not before. I had I don’t know how many breakpoints before that tiebreak.
“I was against the score in the tiebreak. That is true that during the whole set, I had plenty of chances, and he doesn’t.”
Berrettini, who was trying to become the first man from Italy to make a US Open final, agreed the first set blown breaker lead was crucial.
“Winning the first set would have mean I think a lot,” said Berrettini. “Especially with him, you know, it’s tough to go, like, a set down after an hour, more than an hour, with him. But I was feeling I was playing really good, even though he had a lot of chances on my serve. I think I played also good important points. I mean, I was brave, like I asked to myself.
“I couldn’t say anything bad. I cannot complain about what I did. I was playing with Rafa, center court, in semis. I think it’s okay.”
Rafa enters his fifth US Open final and 27th Slam final about as fresh and healthy as one could hope.
“When I arrived here, my goal was to produce a chance to compete for the big thing again. Here I am,” Nadal said. “I give myself another chance, as I did in Wimbledon, as I did in Australia, as I did in Roland Garros. That’s the personal satisfaction. That’s the personal happiness.
“You win, you lose. That’s part of all the sport. Of course, I would love to be the one who achieve more Grand Slams, but I still sleep very well without being the one who have more Grand Slams.”
In the final will be Daniil Medvedev. Earlier in the day, the Russian had a similar match with Grigor Dimitrov. A very tough, grinding first set which the Russian snatched in a break, then the 23-year-old got a control late in the second and cruised in the third for a 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3 victory.
“I think the confidence means a lot in this case because I do think he was better player in first set. I do think I was kind of lucky to win it,” Medvedev said. “Then the momentum changed completely. I think after I was playing better than him in the next two sets. We had some amazing level, I think.”
Medvedev has now reached four straight tournament finals this summer and won 20 of his last 22.
“This summer’s been, I should say, so fast and long at the same time,” he said. “Long because I’ve played so many matches. At the same time so fast because, as you say, I didn’t have any moment to just sit down and look back and say, Okay, I’ve done amazing things.
“Hopefully I will have some time after Sunday. It’s going to be the last match in USA summer. Of course, deep inside of me, I understand that what I’ve done these four weeks is amazing, even comparing to what I’ve done before.”
Medvedev and Nadal just met last month in the Montreal final, which did not go well at all for the youngster who managed just three games.
“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 won’t take Medvedev lightly.
“Is a super tough final,” said Nadal. “I need to be playing at my best. I think at the end of the match I increased my level again today. I need to hold this level if I want to have chances on Sunday. If not, is so difficult. He is very, very solid.”
While Medvedev is the first of these new stars to make a final of this magnitude, Nadal will play in his third Slam title match of the season, and he stands just three sets from 19th trophy, fourth at the US Open.
“I just focus on try to be 100% ready for it,” Nadal said. “Of course, very, very happy for everything. Another final of the Grand Slam, and another final here in Flushing Meadows means a lot to me. So happy.”
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