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Nadal vs. Medvedev in the Australian Open final following respective wins over Berrettini and Tsitsipas

Rafael Nadal plays for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title when he faces No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final that’s a rematch of the 2019 US Open final. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

By Ricky Dimon

For the fifth time since capturing his lone Australian Open title in 2009, Rafael Nadal is just one win away from an elusive second trophy. Sunday will also mark his fourth time in the final at Melbourne Park with the double-career Grand Slam at stake. Since winning the U.S. Open for the second time in 2013, giving him at least two titles at the other three slams, Nadal has lost in the championship match Down Under in 2014, 2017, and 2019.

He will get another shot after beating Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the semifinals on Friday afternoon. Following a five-set thriller against Denis Shapovalov in the quarters, the 35-year-old crucially conserved energy by avoiding a decider against Berrettini–getting the job done in a relatively swift two hours and 55 minutes.

“Today against a difficult opponent–a great opponent, one of the best of the world–I was able to play I think at a very high level for a long time,” Nadal assessed.

It had been a long time since Nadal was able to play at such a level–or at all. The Spaniard missed the last four months of the 2021 campaign because of a foot injury that had plagued him dating back to the French Open. Adding insult to injury, he tested positive for Covid-19 following last month’s Abu Dhabi exhibition.

“I went through a lot of challenging moments, a lot of days of hard work without seeing a light there,” Nadal reflected. “But (I was) still working and still receiving plenty of support from my team and from my family, too, without a doubt. (There were) a lot of conversations with the team, with the family, about what can happen or what’s gonna happen if the things continue like this, thinking that maybe is a chance to say goodbye.

“I mean, that was not a lot of months ago. To be able to be where I am today…I don’t know…I really can’t explain in words how important is for me in terms of energy, in terms of personal satisfaction, in terms of being very thankful for all the support that I received from the fans and especially from the people really close to me.”

Daniil Medvedev of Russia celebrates after winning his men’s semifinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 28 January 2022. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

Nadal will get plenty of support from the fans in Sunday’s title tilt as the sure-to-be crowd favorite against Daniil Medvedev. The Russian continued to ruffle some feathers in Friday’s second semifinal, but between the lines he could do little wrong during a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over arch rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Medvedev’s path to a second straight Aussie Open final was not without shenanigans. During a four-set defeat of Maxime Cressy in the fourth round, the world No. 2 called the match “boring” and referred to his opponent as “lucky.” After saving a match point and outlasting Felix Auger-Aliassime in five-set quarterfinal, Medvedev told the crowd that he mounted his comeback by asking himself, “what would Novak do?” That was greeted with a chorus of boos. Against Tsitsipas, the 25-year-old went on an insult-laced tirade at chair umpire Jaume Campistol for not giving Tsitsipas coaching violations.

All of it has invoked memories of Medvedev’s cantankerous quest for the 2020 U.S. Open title, which ultimately ended in defeat in an epic final against none other than Nadal.

Now, the rematch is on.

“It’s been great.” Medvedev said with a smile when asked about his Melbourne fortnight being “tumultuous” and “emotional.” “It’s been definitely emotional. You know, it started with the match with Nick (Kyrgios), which is just emotional in all the aspects. This energy kept on going with different ones in every match. The Felix match was just crazy in terms of tennis and the score. Today was…I mean…our matches with Stefanos are always emotional.

“Yeah, it’s been a great run and I’m happy that I have the chance for the title on Sunday.”

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.