Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev: Keys to the Match, Predictions for U.S. Open Final

The SI Tennis crew highlights keys to the match and make predictions for the Nadal-Medvedev final at the U.S. Open. 
Publish date:

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev will face off on Sunday with the U.S. Open trophy on the line. Nadal will be aiming for his 19th Grand Slam singles title, which would put him just one behind Roger Federer's all-time record. Medvedev, 23, is playing in his first major final. 

The two have only faced off once previously—at this year's Rogers Cup final, where Nadal won easily, 6-3, 6-0.

Our SI Tennis crew breaks down the final, which will begin at 4 p.m. EST on Sunday. 

Keys to the match for Medvedev

Jon Wertheim: The obligatory "handle the moment." Two weekends ago, Medvedev was dismissing (sandbagging?) his chances of winning here because he had achieved so little at the majors. That's no longer the case. But he has yet to play a match of this magnitude, yet to play a five-setter in his career, yet to play with a career-transforming trophy on the line. Also he yet to beat Nadal, having lost him just last month on the hard courts in Montreal, when he won just three games. And Medvedev will also get a minimum of the crowd support. All of which is to say, Sunday will be terra incognita. And we haven't spoken about the accumulated physical wear-and-tear of his summer—24 hardcourt singles matches (he's won 22) since July 30—against a player who punishes you physically.

Medvedev plays not dissimilarly to Djokovic and he should study how he beats Nadal: by putting him on the defensive, using the return as a weapon and working the backhand corner. Medevedev will have to serve well (when does a player not have to serve well?) and take advantage of court positioning. Nadal insists on standing practically in Canarsie against big hitters and if Medvedev moves in, he can dictate. Medvedev should also remember that Nadal has some pressure, too. This is a match Nadal should win—and the GOAT ramification are considerable. That might Nadal pause when the score tightens.

Stanley Kay: In all likelihood, Nadal still would have beaten Berrettini even if the Italian had converted one of his chances to win the first set. But after the 23-year-old lost that tiebreaker, that mountain seemed a bit too high to climb. That’s the challenge of playing Nadal in a best-of-five match: He’s relentless, and he’ll punish you for missing any and every opportunity. 

So for Medvedev, that first set is vital. Getting an early break would instill some confidence and perhaps rattle Nadal, to the extent that’s even possible. Mostly, he can’t let those chances slip away. The margin of error is far too small for that. A strong first serve is also key. 

Medvedev is usually glued to the baseline, but he might want to play a bit more aggressively and rush the net, like he did against Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals—at the very least, to keep Nadal off balance. After all, Nadal would love nothing more than for this match to take place on the baseline. anl

Daniel Rapaport: Agree big time with Stanley here. You're not going to out-consistent Nadal from the baseline. Medvedev has to use the greater variety he flashed against Wawrinka—the drop shots, approaching the net, that sort of thing. We keep copy and pasting this for underdogs, but that doesn't make it any less true: He has to get off to a good start, to instill belief in himself and show Nadal that he is here and he means business. He'll also do well to feed off the crowd. They're going to be pulling for Rafa big time, but we know Daniil is capable of playing heel and feeding off negative energy. 

Keys to the match for Nadal 

JW: Rafa should Rafa. He's rolling through this event with his thoroughly unique brand of offense-defense, pace-laced/ spin-laced, grinding/shotmaking tennis. You can question his court positioning and question his erratic serve speeds, but there's no reason to stop now. If Nadal is anything close to his level in rounds 1-6, this match—and thus this tournament—is his.

Medvedev defends well and moves well; but Nadal moves and defends better. Medvedev's best shot, the cross court backhand, goes to Nadal's forehand. So it's neutralized a bit. 

When these two met in Montreal, Nadal won handily. While the result comes in for some discounting because Medvedev was tired, so, too, is he tired here. This summer he has been playing an average of four matches a week. Nadal should remember this and unload body blows along with usual lefty haymakers. Finally: use the crowd. While popular everywhere, Nadal has become wildly adored in New York. He can engage and take advantage.

SK: If Nadal serves well, it’s hard to see how he loses this match. On rallies, Nadal is the fitter, more agile player, and he knows that. Nadal will test Medvedev’s fitness with a range of angles and shots of varying depth. Overall, though, Nadal is a three-time champion in Flushing Meadows and knows what it takes to win these matches. As long as Medvedev doesn’t play the match of his life, he’ll be just fine. 

DR: Just be consistent. Don't stray away from the winning formula. He's dropped just one set this tournament. Serve at a decent percentage, outlast Medvedev in the rallies, get the crowd involved. Attack Medvedev's forehand. Make him run, make him feel all the matches he's played this summer. No need to overthink this. 


JW: Nadal in four. 

SK: Nadal in three. 

DR: Nadal in four.