While fast to quip he’s “not old”, Daniil Medvedev enters his third straight US Open semi-final wary that the pressure is firmly on his shoulders as he prepares to meet the “much younger” Felix Auger-Aliassime on Thursday.
Second seed Medvedev is proof the freedom to play without expectations, in a first Grand Slam semi-final, can reap the rewards after beating Grigor Dimitrov at Flushing Meadows two years ago. But experience brought invaluable lessons and the Russian learnt and taught a few in his time since.
In the 2019 final, after wins over former champion Stan Wawrinka and Dimitrov, he famously rallied from two sets down before Rafael Nadal finally prevailed 6-4 in the fifth set. He knows the 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime will play with that same fearlessness against him.
“I kind of understood, I almost beat Rafa, being two sets down and a break, so I do belong here,” Medvedev said. “And last year against Dominic [Thiem], if I talk about a lesson, it was more how to play him…
“He played a really great level and I couldn’t find a solution, which I took a lesson and tried to do better in the Nitto ATP Finals. Even if it was super tough, there was a lesson. There’s no Dominic here, no Rafa, so I’m just going to try to play my best and see which other lessons I can take.”
The 26-year-old will be intent on dishing out the lesson as he looks to extend his ATP Head2Head against the Canadian to 2-0. The Russian claimed their only prior meeting in a third-set tie-break in the round of 32 in Toronto three years ago.
Medvedev dropped his first set of the tournament on Tuesday, in his four-set quarter-final win over Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp, while Auger-Aliassime advanced when his opponent, #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, retired during the second set of their showdown. The 12th seed knows he needs to raise his game to deny the World No. 2 and reach his maiden major final.
“Of course, he’s going to come in with a lot of confidence. I also need to step up and be confident in myself,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I need to serve well. I need to play a great match, be solid from every aspect of my game.
“At the same time I need to try to put pressure on him. But it’s going to be tough. I need to be ready for his best. I need to lace my shoes really well, too, because there’s going to be a lot of running.”
In a worrying sign for prospective opponents in his bid for the Grand Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic has hit his straps in time for the semi-finals, for his 10th clash with fourth seed Alexander Zverev. The World No. 1 improved to 12-0 in US Open quarter-finals as he captured his 80th match win at Flushing Meadows against sixth seed Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday night.
The three-time champion moved to within two victories of becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the Grand Slam and despite having dropped a set in four of his five matches, announced he had finally played his way into form.
“I took my tennis to a different level. It was the best three sets of tennis I’ve played so far in the tournament for sure,” he said of the final sets in his four-set triumph over Berrettini.
The Serbian holds a 6-3 advantage in his ATP Head2Head against Zverev and has a score to settle after losing from a set and a break up in their Tokyo Olympics semi-final. Zverev is on a 16-match winning streak, adding an ATP Masters 1000 title to his Olympics gold medal ahead of the US Open.
“He’s in a fantastic form. Next to Medvedev, [the] best form. But it’s best-of-five, it’s a Grand Slam. Of course looking at his results in the past few years, he’s played very well here on this court,” Djokovic said. “He was a couple of points away from his first Slam last year against Dominic [Thiem].
“I know it’s going to be a battle, even harder than it was today. But I’m ready for it. These are the hurdles that I need to overcome in order to get to the desired destination.”
A runner-up to Thiem last year, the German has dropped just one set – to Jack Sock – in his 2021 campaign. He took down unseeded South African Lloyd Harris in straight sets to book his return to the semi-finals.
“You have to be perfect, otherwise you will not win… [but] most of the time you can’t be perfect. That’s why most of the time people lose to him,” Zverev said of Djokovic. “Against him, you have to win the match yourself. You have to be the one that is dominating the points. You have to do it with very little unforced errors. He is the best player in the world. He is very difficult to beat.”