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Daniil Medvedev: Three keys to beating Rafael Nadal and winning the US Open title

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 8 Sep 2019
  • Daniil Medvedev plays his first Grand Slam final against Rafael Nadal at the US Open on Sunday
  • We've outlined three things Medvedev must do in order to upset the 18-time major champion
Daniil Medvedev (PA Images)

Rafael Nadal is the heavy favourite to win a fourth U.S. Open title and 19th Grand Slam when he takes on Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final - but there are some ways the Russian can make this competitive and even come out on top.

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Medvedev will have to play almost the perfect match - only Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have beaten Nadal in a major final - but the fifth seed is riding a tidal wave of momentum and his confidence has never been higher. We’ve outlined three things Medvedev must do in order to give himself a shot of claiming a maiden Grand Slam title.

Serve out of a tree


There’s no denying Medvedev needs a magnificent serving day. He’s fired down 88 aces so far this tournament, but also 64 double faults, which is a whopping 49 more than Nadal. This is because he goes for broke a lot of the time on his second serve, tactics that paid the ultimate dividends against Djokovic in the Cincinnati final, but also a bold play that isn’t sustainable and will be much harder to execute under the pressure cauldron that is a first major final.


Medvedev will need to be smart with how often he decides to implement those tactics, while his first serve percentage needs to be around 60 or higher. We saw how much Serena struggled in the women’s final because her serve deserted her. It’s the most important shot in tennis and Medvedev needs to start points on the front foot, because once Nadal imposes himself in a baseline exchange, the Russian’s usual method of breaking down his opponents with maddening consistency isn’t going to work. Which brings us to the next point…

Protect his forehand


Nadal absolutely pummelled Medvedev’s forehand into submission in their only previous clash in the Canada Masters final last month, which the Spaniard won 6-3 6-0. My recollection of that match is that Medvedev was right in that contest over the first five games or so, but he couldn’t handle the weight and spin of Nadal’s ball, especially on his forehand wing, and he didn’t have the ability to stop Nadal from doing what he loves to do - gradually breaking down his opponent’s weaker wing and ultimately crushing their spirit in the process.


Medvedev has proven he can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the world in backhand exchanges, and he will need to find a way to make that the dominant play in baseline rallies. Djokovic has had the bulk of his success against Nadal by firing his backhand deep into the Spaniard’s forehand, which can draw a loopy and short return, which then needs to be put away. Medvedev has to implement those same tactics and execute to perfection, which of course is much easier said than done in a maiden major final. Play to his own strengths - his backhand - protect his primary weakness - his forehand - and target Nadal’s most vulnerable position on the baseline, which is deep into his forehand corner so you can open up his backhand wing. That’s what Medvedev has to do on Sunday.

Win the first set


It’s absolutely essential that Medvedev gets off to a good start and wins the opening set. Nadal is 15-1 in Grand Slam finals when he wins the opening set, so it’s basically curtains for the Russian if he doesn’t claim it. Nadal has also only lost a handful of matches in Grand Slams overall when he’s won the first set. It’s so tough to work your way back into a match against Nadal once he gets his nose in front. We saw how Berrettini’s spirit was systematically broken down as their semi-final went on, predominantly in the moments after he missed out on two sets points in the tiebreak.


Medvedev has to take his chances if he gets them and must win the first set. He simply cannot afford to play from behind, because only Djokovic in that epic 2012 Australian Open five-set final has successfully done so against Nadal in a slam final before.


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Daniil Medvedev: Three keys to beating Rafael Nadal and winning the US Open title

Rafael Nadal is the heavy favourite to win a fourth U.S. Open title and 19th Grand Slam when he takes on Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final - but there are some ways the Russian can make this competitive and even come out on top.

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