Daniil Medvedev knew he would have to sideline Rafael Nadal on Saturday night to reach the Nitto ATP Finals Championship game for the first time. A year ago he was leading the Spaniard 5-1 in the third set and had one match point, but couldn’t finish the job.
This time around, the Russian broke the legendary southpaw’s 71-game winning streak after winning the opening set to go undefeated (4-0) in this year’s season finale. The fourth seed dug deep for two hours and 36 minutes to secure his first ATP Head2Head victory over Nadal.
“To beat Rafa, you need everything: [a] good backhand, good forehand job [that] day, ”Medvedev said. “Mentally, you must be super strong, because he is there [for] all points. “
It’s not easy to beat the best. Medvedev and his final opponent Dominic Thiem both beat world No.1 Novak Djokovic and No.2 Nadal this week. Only three players had done it before in the Nitto ATP Finals, and the last occurrence was 10 years ago, when Roger Federer did so.
The top four players in the FedEx ATP rankings have reached the semi-finals of the season finale for the first time since 2004. Djokovic and Nadal own 37 combined Grand Slam championships. The third and fourth seeds, Thiem and Medvedev, have one, and that is Thiem’s recent title at the US Open.
So, when Medvedev faced Nadal on Saturday night, he was happy to help shake things up. He had seen a post on social media acknowledging the four semi-finalists who caught his attention.
“The comment [that] “My mind says Dominic and Daniil will be in the final and my heart is for Rafa and Novak,” “Medvedev recalled with a smile. “This time the spirit won. It’s great that we managed to beat two [of the] the greatest players in the history of sport …
“I think it’s great for tennis. We are starting to take our marks. Dominic won his first Slam [and he is] playing amazing tennis right now. [It’s] is not going to be easy. I hope I can play well like this. I can certainly get him in trouble.
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The rising stars have known each other since the juniors, so there will be no more secrets on the O2 center court on Sunday. Medvedev and Thiem have practiced together twice since arriving in London, where they both made history. Now, they’ll lace up their sneakers one more time and see who will lift the trophy.
The only difference is that this is no longer an early season junior game at Umag, where they first met when Medvedev was 14. It is one of the biggest titles in tennis. If Medvedev wins, he will become the first player in Nitto ATP Finals history to defeat the top three players in the FedEx ATP rankings en route to the crown.
“Dominic is [an] incredible player, ”Medvedev said. “I think it will be good tennis tomorrow.”
Did you know?
A first champion in the season finale is guaranteed for the fifth consecutive year.