One year ago, Daniil Medvedev went winless in his Nitto ATP Finals debut. After a thrilling three-set victory against Rafael Nadal on Saturday evening, the World No. 4 is one match from becoming the undefeated 2020 champion.
Nadal served for a straight-sets victory at The O2 in London, but Medvedev rallied for a 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 triumph to reach the championship match at the season finale. The Russian, who has won nine consecutive matches, will play Dominic Thiem for the title.
“I felt really strange until 5-4 for him in the second set, when he was serving for the match,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “It felt like I was doing great shots but there was no link in my game and that was why I was losing. He was better in the important moments, I couldn’t return in the important moments, I couldn’t make a good shot in the important moments.
“I decided to change some small things. Just being closer, going for it a little bit more. I felt like I had the chances to win before [in] some games, a set maybe, but it didn’t work, so I had to change and it worked really well. I am really happy about it.”
Medvedev can become the fourth player to triumph at the year-end championships following a winless debut. Nadal entered the match on a 71-match winning streak after taking the opening set, but 24-year-old snapped that run with a gritty mental and physical performance over two hours and 36 minutes.
Medvedev and Thiem have defeated both World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Nadal this week. For the Russian, it was his first ATP Head2Head victory against Nadal (1-3). Last year at The O2, Nadal saved a match point and rallied from 5-1 down in the deciding set of a round-robin match to defeat Medvedev.
It appeared almost certain that one year on, Medvedev wouldn’t make it to a deciding set. Nadal served for a spot in the final at 5-4 in the second set. But a sloppy game, punctuated by a mis-hit forehand off his back foot, allowed the Russian back into the match.
Nadal changed his typical tactics, using a heavy dose of his backhand slice to try to frustrate Medvedev. But instead it was the Spaniard who was stuck searching for answers, as Medvedev remained in his comfort zone. The World No. 4 hit 13 aces and won 77 per cent of his first-serve points in his victory.[DATA DIVE]
Medvedev came out firing early on, making his first 16 serves of the match and pressuring Nadal’s serve, earning three break points in his second return game. But at 3-3 in the opener, Medvedev missed all four of his first serves and paid for it, getting broken at love. Nadal was flawless when he moved forward, going five-for-five at the net in the first set.
The 2010 and 2013 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up played a sloppy first service game of the second set, hitting a rare double fault to concede a break. But Medvedev let slip his advantage and then gave up a second break by hitting a forehand volley right to Nadal, and it seemed that Nadal would surge to a rematch against Thiem, who defeated him in Group London 2020 play on Tuesday.
Nitto ATP Finals Wins vs. Djokovic & Nadal (Same Year)
But Medvedev, who is full of confidence after winning his third ATP Masters 1000 title at the Rolex Paris Masters, maintained his focus. Nadal began making uncharacteristic errors and the Russian applied even more pressure by standing his ground on the baseline in key moments.
Medvedev is not known for his play in the forecourt. But after letting slip two break points at 3-3 in the decider, he snuck into the net to put pressure on the lefty, ultimately earning the break with an overhead winner. He then earned a second break in the set to reach the final against Thiem, who leads their budding rivalry 3-1.
“Dominic is playing amazing right now. Already in the US Open when I lost against him, after the match I was sitting in the locker [room] and I was like, ‘I was playing good [in] this match.’ But he managed to do it, he won his first Grand Slam,” Medvedev said. “The first two times on Centre Court [I practised here] was with him. We had good rallies, it was a really good level of tennis and I said to my coach, ‘He can go far here.’ I don’t know if he said the same… but I am going to see him tomorrow.”
Did You Know?
Medvedev entered Paris-Bercy with an 0-2 record against Top 10 opponents this season. Since then he is 6-0 against the elite group.