World No. 2 Rafael Nadal had his hands full with in-form Daniil Medvedev on Saturday evening on London, but appeared all but ready to finish solving the puzzle across the net. There was just one problem: Medvedev refused to crack.
With Nadal serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the fourth-ranked Medvedev found his way back to even the contest, before eventually surging late in the third to secure his first victory in four attempts over the 20-time major champion, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
"I felt really strange till 5-4 for him in the second set. I felt like I was doing great shots, but I couldn't return, make a good shot in the important moments.," Medvedev said on-court afterwards. "I decided to change some small things, going for it a little bit more. I felt like I had chances to win before, some games, a set maybe but it didn't work. So I had to change it and it worked really well. I'm happy about it."
Nadal trailed 1-4 in the second set, but had reeled off four consecutive games to put the match on his racquet. The Russian, undefeated this week in London, broke at love to level for 5-5 and in the eventual tiebreaker, won the point of the match. At 1-1, Medvedev finished a grueling exchange with a massive inside-out forehand winner to earn the first mini break, an advantage he wouldn't lose hold of in sending the semifinal into a third set.
Medvedev missed an opportunity to carry his momentum through in the opening game at 30-40 on Nadal's serve, but reapplied the pressure midway through the set. In a lengthy game, Medevdev created three separate break point chances and on the final one, snuck into the net, blocked a clean backhand volley before ultimately putting away an overhead to move ahead 4-3. He would break again to end the contest after two hours and 36 minutes.
The Spaniard, hoping to give himself a shot to win an important trophy that has eluded him for the past 15 years, ended his season with a 3-5 record versus Top-10 opponents. Nadal finished 2020 with a 27-7 mark, highlighted by his record-extending 13th Roland Garros crown.
"I feel I played a bad game. Of course you are nervous to win the match," said Nadal. "Is normal to have the tension. I think he played some good points and I make a couple of mistakes.
"And that's it, and then he played a good tiebreak. I should be winning my serve in the third, the one that I lost. I had [an] easy volley to close the game. Small details makes a big difference. Just well done for him and not enough good for me."
In order to claim the biggest title of his career, Medvedev will need to complete a trifecta of taking down the ATP's Top 3 players, as world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, who battled past Novak Djokovic in a final set tiebreaker earlier, awaits Medvedev. The Austrian dismissed Medvedev in the US Open semifinals on his way to joining the major winner's club.
"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. I was like, 'I was playing good this match', but he managed to do it, won his first Grand Slam. I practiced also the first two times on center court with him. We had good rallies, a really good level of tennis. I said to my coach, he can go far here.' I don't know if he said the same."