Rafael Nadal tried to change the game against Daniil Medvedev on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP final. But the Russian solved the Spaniard’s puzzle which helped him reach the league game in the season finale.
In the Group London 2020 game, Nadal did not use his share excessively. He sliced 14% of his shots against Andrey Rublev, 12% against Dominic Thiem and 10% against defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in a must-see match.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion then made a massive tactical change against Medvedev, cutting 31% of the time against the triple ATP Masters 1000 title list to slow the pace of the match and make things difficult for Medvedev, who hits some of the TBEN’s flattest groundstrokes. A biting slice stays lower on the pitch, making the next blow harder for Medvedev to hit.
Using that strategy and smart trips to the net helped Nadal thwart Medvedev and take a 6-3, 5-4 lead, putting him in position to serve the game.
“He was slicing slowly and playing slowly from there,” said Medvedev, who had lost his three previous ATP Head2Head meetings to Nadal. “I think he only hit maybe two winners in the game from the backhand side.”
Nadal’s slice percentage of the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals per game
The Spaniard actually hit six backhand winners, but using the slice so often, which worked for a good part of the game, allowed Medvedev to take the lead in the important moments. Nadal saved the first two break points he faced 3-3 in the decider, and he didn’t hit any slices on either point.
But the third time was the fourth-seeded charm, as Medvedev ultimately took advantage of the opening the slicing gave him. At the third breaking point he faced in the game, Nadal hit three straight backhand cuts. On the third, Medvedev predicted the southpaw was going to hit a slice, and he slipped into the net, where he caught Nadal off guard. His backhand volley forced the second seed to attempt a chip backhand lob, which Medvedev crushed with an overhead.
It was a point perfectly constructed by Medvedev in which every element of his game was linked.
In the last set of their semi-final 37% of Nadal’s shots were slices. In his first three games of this year’s Nitto ATP Final, his highest slice percentage in a set was 17% in the opening set against Rublev, which was his first set of the week.
Nadal had a strategy against Medvedev, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. Last year at O2, the Spaniard recovered from a 5-1 third set deficit to beat Medvedev. In that game, the southpaw sliced 23% of the time, but he sliced only 16% of his shots in the deciding set, when he made his epic comeback.
Comparison between Medvedev and Nadal Slice: set by set
|Slice percentage||Daniil Medvedev||Rafael Nadal|
The installment kept Medvedev at bay for some time on Saturday, but the Russian continued to fight and eventually became more comfortable dealing with it as the game progressed.
“[I] started to feel the connection to the game more. I think I could feel it in the score and actually everything about the game, ”Medvedev said. “The tie-break and the third set [were] very well.”
– Slice stats courtesy of Hawkeye