The SI Tennis crew highlights keys to the match and make predictions for both men's semifinals at the U.S. Open.

By The SI Staff
September 05, 2019

The U.S. Open men's semifinals will both take place Friday in New York, with No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev facing Grigor Dimitrov before No. 2 Rafael Nadal takes on No. 24 Matteo Berrettini. 

Medvedev and Berrettini are both making their first-ever appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal, while Dimitrov will be playing in his third but first since the 2017 Australian Open. Nadal, on the other hand, will be playing his 33rd Grand Slam semifinal match. He is a massive favorite to win the title and his 19th Grand Slam singles title. 

Still, anything can happen in tennis. Our SI Tennis crew breaks down these two highly unexpected matchups: 

Medvedev vs. Dimitrov

What are the keys to the match for Medvedev?

Jon Wertheim: Some people like that fitness and conditioning play such a prominent role in the modern game. Some don’t. But this match rests largely how Medvedev’s body holds up. Mostly by dint of his success, he had played more summer hardcourt matches coming into this tournament than the top four seeds combined. Here, he’s played a lot of tennis (though no five-setters). He talked openly about how close he came to quitting in the quarterfinals against Wawrinka. He’ll come to the court mummified in tape, but he’ll benefit from the extra recovery day. As for X’s and O’s, he can bully Dimitrov and take advantage of Dimitrov’s peek-a-boo serve. 

Stanley Kay: Medvedev is the clear favorite...if he's healthy. A big if! It's remarkable that he hung on to beat Stan Wawrinka despite being in visible discomfort. Friday's semifinal will likely hinge on whether nearly three full days of rest gave Medvedev's body enough of a break. If he's still in pain, he'll have to keep points short and serve with ruthless efficiency. As he showed on Tuesday, he's perfectly capable of doing that. 

Daniel Rapaport: Feel better? As my two colleagues mentioned, it's all about health and freshness here. If he's close to full strength, he's consistent enough to wear Dimitrov down. I was mightily impressed by his willingness and ability to switch things up against Wawrinka, so even if he has recovered, he'd do well to employ some of that variety in this match and beyond. 

What are the keys to the match for Dimitrov?

JW: Avoid a letdown after the biggest win of his career, at least at a major. There’s a reason players fare poorly in their matches subsequent to beating Federer. It's because topping him is an occasion, and it can be tough to reset after that. Though he played at night, Dimitrov too, will benefit from an extra day of rest. He has more variety and more big-match experience. He’ll also have the crowd on his side. He’ll need to serve well and hope his one-handed backhand is clicking. And lengthening the points will help, since Medvedev’s accumulated court time this summer is considerable.

SK: In the quarterfinals, as Federer struggled physically, Dimitrov made a concerted effort to extend every point. He moved exceptionally well, and he made Federer work for every point. Eventually, that wore down Federer, who was struggling with an injury sustained earlier that day. Against a hobbled Medvedev, Dimitrov would be wise to take a similar approach: Extend points, don't allow him easy holds and start strong. Taking the first set would build Dimitrov's confidence, but it would also pose a serious physical and mental strain on his injured opponent. 

DR: I actually think he needs to be careful not to fall into the "I can just outlast him" mentality. Medvedev doesn't miss often, and Dimitrov will need to employ his greater variety to make inroads here. Don't be complacent. Don't simply try to win a battle of attrition. Go out there with the confidence of the world No. 3, like he was back in 2017, not the world No. 78 he entered this week as. 

Who wins the match?

JW: Medvedev in another four-setter. 

SK: Three days of rest makes enough of a difference, and Daniil Medvedev wins in four sets. 

DR: Dimitrov in five. Feed me the upset. 

Nadal vs. Berrettini

What are the keys to the match for Rafa?

JW: He is not only trophy-adjacent. He is trophy-adjacent with neither Djokovic nor Federer left in the draw. We’ve seen Nadal pull up with injuries. We’ve seen Nadal fall prey to players in the zone. But those are remote possibilities. Realistically, it’s Nadal’s match—and Nadal’s tournament—to lose.

SK: That Nadal beat Diego Schwartzman in straight sets belies the close nature of their quarterfinal. In both the first and second sets, Nadal jumped ahead multiple breaks before allowing Schwartzman to get back on serve. Nadal was sloppy at times, missing several routine forehands wide and failing to put away Schwartzman when he had opportunities. A great deal of credit should go to the persistence of Schwartzman, one of the game's best returners. But if Nadal serves effectively—and entering the match against Schwartzman, he was nearly unbreakable—it's hard to see Berrettini prevailing. 

DR: Don't get injured in the pre-match warmup? I kid, but Nadal is such an overwhelming favorite here, he should have no issues as long as he plays his game. I guess there's a slight possibility of overlooking his opponent, but there's not the possibility of a Federer or Djokovic match to divert his attention. Plus, we know Nadal does not take any opponent lightly. He should also use the cross-court topspin forehand to attack Berrettini's backhand, which is a weakness. 

What are the keys to the match for Berrettini?

JW: Serve well, slug well, and, above all, contain his nerves for the biggest match of his career. Beating an erratic Gael Monfils in a Wednesday day session is one thing; beating the great Nadal for a spot in the U.S. Open final is something else altogether. Berrettini is one of the few players who won’t be bullied by Nadal physically. But look at every dimension of tennis—including experience—and it’s hard to think of one thing Berrettini does better. He is also coming off a physically brutalizing match that ended 7-6 in the fifth set.

SK: Congratulations on reaching your first Grand Slam semifinal, Matteo. Now, for your prize: A match against Rafael Nadal! Good luck. Oh, and by the way: Your last match was a five-set marathon. Credit Berrettini for an exceptional victory on Wednesday, but he allowed  Monfils to stay alive far too long, blowing a 5–2 lead in the decider and failing to convert four match points before prevailing in a fifth-set tiebreaker. That might fly against Monfils, but there's very little margin for error—definitely not 64 unforced errors, his quarterfinal tally—against Nadal. He'll have to serve exceptionally well. An early break of Nadal's serve would help as well. 

DR: Have the best serving day of his life. Go for broke whenever he has a short ball, particularly on the forehand. Avoid the Nadal forehand to your backhand rallies. Win the first set to foster belief. And even then, it might not be enough. 

Who wins the match?

JW: Nadal in three sets. 

SK: Nadal in three sets. 

DR: Nadal in three sets. 

 

 

 

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