How Rafael Nadal Beat Daniil Medvedev In The US Open Final
After a tremendous battle in the US Open final, Rafael Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 over four hours and 50 minutes to earn his fourth trophy in Flushing Meadows and his 19th Grand Slam title, moving to within one of Roger Federer’s record (20).
Nadal earned what appeared to be an insurmountable lead against Medvedev, going ahead by two sets and a break against the first-time major finalist. However, Medvedev made a spirited comeback against the second seed to force a fifth set. Nadal never stopped fighting, though, saving three break points in the second game of the decider en route to his 84th tour-level title. Relive the action in ATPTour.com’s set-by-set report.
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In Montreal, Nadal saved a break point in the first game of the match, and was rarely troubled after that. This time, however, Medvedev got off to a perfect start. Despite missing a backhand return into the net in the first game to let slip a break chance, the Russian maintained his pressure, breaking in his next return game when Nadal curled a neutral forehand into the bottom of the net.
Nadal, who entered the final having dropped only one set this fortnight, bounced back immediately, benefitting from back-to-back backhand errors off the Cincinnati champion’s racquet to get back on serve. It seemed the legendary lefty might seize control as Medvedev served to even the match at 4-4. Nadal earned three break points that game, but the Russian showed no fear, winning a rapid volley exchange, serve and volleying for the first time in the match and then leaping into a backhand approach shot that he struck for a winner.
After he got broken in his second service game, Nadal got into a rhythm, winning 14 consecutive service points, a streak that lasted until 5-5. And eventually Nadal’s unrelenting pressure paid dividends. After saving the first set point he faced when Nadal cut a backhand slice into the net, Medvedev could not stave off the second, reaching for a high backhand volley and sending it into the ground.
Both players have stood several meters behind the baseline to return first serves, and by doing so they have been able to get a lot of balls back into play. Nadal threw in a handful of no-pace loopy groundstrokes, seemingly to change the rhythm of the point against Medvedev. And at the end of the set, the Spaniard began to increase the aggression with his forehand. The 83-time tour-level titlist and the World No. 5 both chose good times to approach the net, winning more than 70 per cent of net points each in the opener.
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Medvedev got off to another strong start in the second set, once again earning a break point in the first game. But the 23-year-old was unable to capitalise, hitting a backhand into the net. There was little drama in the next two games, but Nadal pressed hard to improve his advantage when he took a 0/40 lead on Medvedev’s serve at 2-1.
After a wild point in which the Spaniard missed a low forehand down the line long, Medvedev played to win by striking back-to-back winners to get back to deuce. He also showed his courage when facing a fourth break point in the game, serve and volleying to win the point. Interestingly, his first two serve-and-volley attempts of the match came while facing break point.’
Although Medvedev held that game, he could not gut out his next turn on serve. Nadal neared another 0/40 advantage at 3-2, but a tremendous forehand half volley drop shot for a winner kept it to 15/30. But on the fifth break point he faced in the set, Medvedev missed into the net, and the second seed never relinquished his lead. Nadal dug out of a 15/30 hole as he served for the set and finished it off when a forehand from his opponent sailed long.
Before the final, Former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov told ATPTour.com that a key in the match for Medvedev would be to improve his first-serve percentage after landing only 47 per cent of his first deliveries in the semi-finals against Grigor Dimitrov. Even though he has improved that a lot, making 63 per cent of his first serves through two sets, Medvedev has won just 63 per cent of those points. And in the second set, he made just 54 per cent of his first serves compared to 67 per cent in the opener.
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Much like in Nadal’s semi-final victory against Italian Matteo Berrettini, he found a way to get through the opening set and only got better from there. The Spaniard took advantage of his first break chance in the third set, at 2-2, hanging in a rally through early Medvedev aggression before the Russian missed a backhand into the net — his 25th backhand error (forced and unforced) of the match.
But there was a twist in the plot. In the next game, Nadal double faulted to give Medvedev two break points at 15/40. The second seed snuck into net to save the first one and then Rafa serve and volleyed to get back to deuce, winning his ninth serve-and-volley point from 10 tries up until that point. But Nadal missed a high forehand volley to give the five-time ATP Tour champion another chance, and Medvedev did not let it slip, as Nadal missed a loopy backhand just long.
At 5-5, Medvedev held to love to guarantee he would get to at least a tie-break, but he would not need it. The Russian crushed a massive forehand winner down the line to earn three consecutive break points at 0/40. After Nadal bravely saved one with a serve and volley, Medvedev pulled a backhand approach shot up and down for a winner on the next point — his 48th of the match — to extend this to a fourth set.
Once Medvedev went down a break, it seemed like Nadal was in a perfect rhythm, having pushed the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier back and coming to net plenty to finish points off. But Medvedev made an adjustment, moving closer to the baseline and working his way into the net himself — winning eight of 12 net points in the third set — thus keeping Nadal from exerting his will.
And the player who will climb to World No. 4 on Monday also reversed what was a downward trend with his first serve. Not only did he land 65 per cent of them, but he won 77 per cent of those points, his best rate of the match by a large margin.
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Not that long ago, Nadal appeared on his way to winning this match — and with it, his fourth US Open title — in straight sets. But Medvedev has dug deep and played sensational tennis to send this to a decider.
This set went longer than any of the first three without a break of serve. But at 5-4, the Russian kept plugging away despite Nadal taking a 30/0 lead. After the lefty missed a forehand to give Medvedev a break point, the fifth seed showed tremendous anticipation, taking a couple shuffle steps out wide, putting himself in perfect position to crush a laser of a backhand return perfectly inside the sideline and the baseline.
Medvedev increased his serve and volley output and continued to put pressure on Nadal, using down-the-line shots from the baseline to keep Nadal from playing too aggressively himself.
The 23-year-old is also closing in on Nadal in the 0-4 shot rally category. He is just two points behind the lefty through four sets (Nadal leads 77-75, showing how his offensive mindset has helped pull him back into this epic battle.
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Medvedev had reversed the momentum, putting himself within one set of his maiden Grand Slam crown. But one momentary slip made the difference in the fifth set.
After holding for a 1-0 advantage, Medvedev earned three break points. On the third of those chances, Nadal was assessed a time violation following an earlier warning, meaning the loss of his first serve. Nadal responded with a massive inside-out forehand and an even bigger fist pump, eventually holding.
The Russian took a 40/0 lead on his serve at 2-2. But a missed forehand allowed Nadal back in the game, and the Spaniard took full advantage. Medvedev saved one break point with a booming ace. But on Nadal’s next break point, the World No. 2 sliced a defensive backhand just over the net, forcing Medvedev to go for an awkward drop shot, which the Spaniard swatted away with a backhand winner.
One of the changes Nadal made was increasing the use of his backhand slice to Medvedev’s backhand, forcing the Russian to hit up on the ball rather than hammering it cross-court or redirecting it down the line. That led to some unforced errors in key moments from the fifth seed.
Nadal broke for the second time in the set when Medvedev hit an overhead smash well long, giving himself a cushion as he served for the match at 5-2. That proved important, as Medvedev again increased his aggression. On break point, Nadal was assessed another time violation, forcing him to hit a second serve. The lefty then hit a double fault, giving Medvedev new life.
And like he did the entire match, Medvedev kept fighting. Nadal earned a championship point with a drop volley, but the Russian responded by cracking a winner. Nadal drilled a forehand pass off Medvedev’s racquet to earn another point for the trophy, and the 23-year-old showed guts by hitting a big second serve out wide to Nadal’s forehand, which went unreturned.
Medvedev neared an improbable turnaround, earning a break point to get back on serve. But after Nadal hit his first serve into the net, he crushed a forehand approach shot that Medvedev could not put back into play. After the Russian made an error on another championship point, Nadal collapsed to the court in celebration
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Did You Know?
Both Nadal (144/178) and Medvedev (124/154) put 81 per cent of their returns back into play. The tournament average was 71 per cent.