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Rafael Nadal, of Spain, returns a shot to Matteo Berrettini, of Italy, during the men's singles semifinals of the U.S. Open tennis championships Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Rafael Nadal, of Spain, returns a shot to Matteo Berrettini, of Italy, during the men's singles semifinals of the U.S. Open tennis championships Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)|Associated Press
Tennis

U.S. Open men's final: Abrams picks Rafael Nadal vs Daniil Medvedev

The match is Sunday at 4 pm EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 U.S. Open

Flushing Meadows, New York

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Men’s Singles Finals

Rafa Nadal over Daniil Medvedev

And we’re down to two. One has played the best tennis of the year and owns the most wins on the ATP Tour for 2019, Russian Daniil Medvedev. The other is coming from the bottom half of the draw which, after last Monday, was seemingly bereft of all the other challengers in his section, Rafa Nadal. Nadal will be going for his 4th U.S. Open title and 19th Grand Slam Singles title, while Medvedev will be playing in his first Grand Slam final. Their match should be a fitting conclusion to a wonderful fortnight of tennis in The Big Apple.

Medvedev has been close to unbeatable this summer, making the finals of three tournaments in a row and winning one. This would simply add a cherry on top of a magnificent year in which he raised his ranking all the way up to #5, should he walk away with the title. He already is an elite player. The question he must answer is, “can he join the Big Three” as part of the Tour’s Board of Directors? His serve is top notch, perhaps a tad below Nick Kyrgios’, but right up there with John Isner, Reilly Opelka, and the other hulks on Tour. Oftentimes he finishes games with four unplayable serves in under sixty seconds. His forehand is strong and powerful, hit from anywhere on the court, and very consistent. From time to time he’ll hit one off the frame, but at this level where he’s playing the best and he’s constantly trying to be offensive with almost every shot, who doesn’t make an occasional error? His backhand is consistently excellent, although not a circus shot like some of the other men. He runs like a gazelle, and he seems to compete at the highest level. My fear for him is that he has shown a propensity to suffer from cramps recently, and if they invade his body, he’s done.

Nadal is a bit of an enigma to me. It would be inaccurate to call him a defensive player, although he is probably the greatest player on defense on the Tour right now. He just hits every shot with such extreme topspin that he doesn’t miss often when pressed, and less so when not. He has a surprisingly excellent volley, but rarely is seen at the net, and has improved his serve over the years to the point that it is a bright spot for him, often hit in the middle 120 mph’s. He is also a tiger. He is such a tough competitor that a player who gets a single game against the Spaniard has something to feel good about. He doesn’t give up points, let alone games, and is happy to win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, no matter how much it embarrasses his opponent. With all that said, Nadal has had a spotty year . . . for him. Yes, he got to the finals of the Australian, the semis of Wimbledon, and cashed in on his 12th French Open victory (read that again!!!). But his clay court run was not on the level of the past, especially when he lost in the semis of Monte Carlo to the Fabulous Fognini. Yet even with his rare losses, he came into the Open as the second seed, and is currently ranked #2 in the world. Put more bluntly, if he wins his fourth Open, he will have finished the year with two Grand Slam titles, as a finalist in another, and a semi-finalist in the fourth. Not a bad year for a mortal.

Nadal will win this match. He is too strong, too resilient, too steadfast, too stubborn, and too good to let this opportunity slip through his fingers. Medvedev will have to deal with his unusual return-of-serves, where he stands a good fifteen feet behind the baseline, and adjust to the change in timing that strategy presents. Although this position seemingly opens up angles that he’ll need to cover on his return, it also buys Nadal another ¾ of a second or so to see and react to the ball, and at this level, that is a lifetime. Nadal will move Medvedev around, will defend well, and attack when given the opportunity. More than anything else, the Mallorcan will simply wear down Medvedev, and, like the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz," we’ll see him melt right in front of our eyes.

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