Just as the women’s final did, the men’s final at the US Open will offer up a contrast in ages and styles. At times, it can seem as if the first-pumping, topspin-ripping Spaniard and the gangly, unorthodox Russian are playing different sports.
The only time they have stepped onto the same court was for the final of the Rogers Cup last month, and Nadal played their sport a lot better than Medvedev did, winning 6-3, 6-0. Everything about Medvedev’s game that has been a problem for others—the changes in pace, the backhands that stay low, the stubborn consistency—proved to be just more fodder for Nadal’s machine-gun baseline game. Once Rafa grabbed the lead and began hitting freely, Medvedev didn’t seem to know which way the ball was going to go next—except past him.
Medvedev is obviously a better player than he showed that day. He leads the tour in wins in 2019, and he hasn’t lost since the Rogers Cup, a run that includes a win over Novak Djokovic and a Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati. But can we really expect him to pull off such a complete turnaround in such a short period of time against Nadal? It’s a long shot, but there is a recent precedent. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was the Medvedev of the first half of the season, was demolished by Rafa at the Australian Open; four months later in Madrid, he beat him on clay.
While Nadal wasn’t troubled by Medvedev’s strange game last time, that doesn’t mean it will never work against him. Rafa has been getting more free points with his serve than usual in this event; one of Medvedev’s strengths is how many serves he can reach, and how many returns he puts in play. And while Medvedev’s favorite shot, his crosscourt backhand, goes straight into Nadal’s forehand, there is a school of thought that says going to the forehand, and thus opening up the backhand side, is the best way to play Rafa.
Medvedev’s run is no fluke. He’s a Top 5 player who can beat anyone, and who will surely win Slams in the future. But Nadal has been winning Slams for a very long time already. Winner: Nadal
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