So in the end at the US Open it’s the two Masters summer champions, Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev, hooking up for the final Grand Slam title of 2019.
How did we get here? First, Rafa had a great draw. Recall Roger Federer landed with Novak Djokovic leaving the struggling Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic in his quarter along with big men Karen Khachanov and John Isner who haven’t shown much consistency during the season.
In the semifinals, it was likely to be someone out of left field — I thought Gael Monfils — but Matteo Berrettini took advantage as Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Nick Kyrgios and even Felix Auger-Aliassime who all have had recent issues.
And Rafa pretty much has breezed into his 27th Slam final.
Meanwhile, Medvedev has had some cramping and some leg/thigh issues, but he got awfully lucky not having to face Djokovic or Federer to get to the final, which is quite incredible these days when so many players run into a Big 3 early and get their heart ripped out.
Djokovic is back having injury problems, Federer again is showing his age as his body keeps reminding him; and in that top half, after Novak and Roger it was Medvedev. So it’s not a huge surprise in that half other than Djokovic going down.
On to the final.
Rafael Nadal v Daniil Medvedev
First, I think it’s fair to throw their Canadian Open final out the window. That’s not happening Sunday.
Despite Medvedev getting destroyed back in Montreal, I think the big Russian puts up a solid fight. He learned in Cincinnati against Djokovic that when the “A” game isn’t working, go to plan “B”, or even “C” or “D”. So clearly, what he tried in Canada he can’t and I don’t think will do again.
My guess is he’s going to have to bomb serves and bomb forehands. Because while Medvedev is a decent mover, he can’t hang back on the baseline and hope Rafa misses like a Dimitrov or a Wawrinka.
And based on his comments and his summer — he’s gone 20-2 so far — I think he’s smart enough to know that.
Of course if Rafa is having an off day, that “pusher” strategy could work, but I have to think Rafa’s going to be on his game. He’s three sets from 19 and to do it he has to beat someone who is making his Grand Slam final debut and someone who he just crushed.
This is another great opportunity for Nadal — just like Kevin Anderson was a few years ago — to really put the heat on Roger and grab a Slam and possibly finish No. 1 for a fifth time.
That said, I think Medvedev has a chance, but he’ll have to go big. As soon as Medvedev drops balls short, we know what Rafa will do. So the 23-year-old will have to take chances, big serves, attack the net, use drop shots, and crack groundies. Otherwise, it will become Canada Part 2. And no one wants to see that.
For Nadal, it’s business as usual. Serve well, dictate with the forehand and get returns in. That should be enough because we know he’s going to show up armed and ready for battle.
The question is, can Medvedev come up with something big, something different to knock Rafa off his game? Because as it is right now, nothing Medvedev does should bother Rafa. So the Russian will really need to mix things up and like I said, I think he will. But it still won’t be enough.
The Pick: Nadal in three
Will there be an upset? I think Medvedev can get a set, but the problem is Rafa is so fresh, so hungry and to win three is going to take a monumental effort, and I don’t think Medvedev, after his long summer, has the reserves let alone the game right now to pull it off.
If this final was best-of-3, then yes, Medvedev could blast serves like he did against Djokovic in Cincinnati and maybe get through, but over the course of five sets, that’s tough to do.
I will say I like Medvedev’s attitude. He’s not afraid unlike some of the others. And win or lose, I think he’s shown this summer that he’s going to be around a while. And we now have pretty good idea of what the Top 10 will look like in 3-4 years with Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Khachanov, FAA, etc. But for now, it’s still the Big 3 and Rafa’s once again the last man standing.
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