September 7, 2019
Rafael Nadal is on the brink of a massive Grand Slam title victory after the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows went pretty much as expected.
The Spaniard could have made life complicated for himself when he fell 0-4 behind in the first-set tie-break against the popular Italian, Matteo Berrettini.
Nadal faced two set points moments later at 4-6. But he battled his way through that mini-crisis and never looked back to win 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 6-1.
His opponent in the final will be Daniil Medvedev, who saw off Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3. The 23-year-old has won 20 of his last 22 matches.
It could be a cracking final. Especially if the younger man can push Rafa to a first-set tie-break and take it.
But even then, you can imagine Nadal roaring back to take his 19th Grand Slam title in four or five sets.
The key is in that number. Nineteen Slams would leave Nadal just one behind the great Roger Federer. Rafa had the chance to make ground on Roger at Wimbledon but was beaten by that very man.
Now, just weeks later, he has an even better opportunity for glory. No Novak Djokovic at the business end. Medvedev has never won a Grand Slam. It is too good to be true for Rafa, isn’t it?
Even if Nadal doesn’t then win the Australian Open, habitual victory at the French would leave him level with Federer going into Wimbledon 2020. What drama that could bring!
These are incentives that Rafa cannot ignore. These steps can move him towards history and the claim to be the greatest tennis player of all time.
This is the first step, since Nadal won’t want to look back.
So what could go wrong? Well, Rafa could tighten, as Serena Williams has often done with history beckoning.
Medvedev could come in with a devil-may-care attitude. Maybe he has learnt from that that heavy defeat at the hands of Nadal in Montreal a few weeks ago.
He certainly has no pressure on his shoulders. Only a niggling quad injury to think about. And a love-hate relationship with a New York crowd that has already booed him several times this year.
But if we are going to come down on one side or other, we can’t avoid the emphatic nature of that Rogers Cup thumping.
Nadal beat Medvedev 6-3, 6-0. The bagel will surely be in the back of Daniil’s mind.
But lurking in Rafa’s will be the importance of the contest to the way we perceive his overall career some time in the future.
Even the great Nadal is prone to nerves. He showed a few in the opening set of the semi-final. But surely, surely this opportunity of another major is too good for Rafa to miss.