Daniil Medvedev knew that he’d have to put away Rafael Nadal on Saturday evening to reach the Nitto ATP Finals championship match for the first time. One year ago, he led the Spaniard 5-1 in the third set and had a match point, but couldn’t finish the job.
This time, the Russian snapped the legendary lefty’s 71-match winning streak after taking the opening set to remain undefeated (4-0) at this year’s season finale. The fourth seed dug deep for two hours and 36 minutes to earn his first ATP Head2Head victory against Nadal.
“To beat Rafa, you need everything: [a] good backhand, good forehand working [that] day,” Medvedev said. “Mentally you need to be super strong, because he’s there [for] all the points.”
It’s not easy to beat the best. Medvedev and his opponent in the final, Dominic Thiem, both defeated World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Nadal this week. Only three players had previously done that at the Nitto ATP Finals, and the last occurrence was 10 years ago, when Roger Federer did it.
The top four players in the FedEx ATP Rankings 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 US Open title.
So when Medvedev battled past Nadal Saturday evening, he was happy to help shake things up. He had seen a post on social media recognising the four semi-finalists that caught his attention.
“The comment [that] got the most likes was, ‘My mind is saying Dominic and Daniil will be in the final and my heart goes for Rafa and Novak,’” Medvedev recalled, cracking a smile. “This time the mind won. It’s great that we managed to beat two [of the] biggest players in the history of sport…
“I think it’s super for tennis. We are starting to get to take our marks. Dominic won his first Slam [and he is] playing unbelievable tennis right now. [It’s] not going to be easy. Hopefully I can play good like this. I for sure can cause him some troubles.”
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The rising stars have known each other since the juniors, so there will be no secrets on Centre Court at The O2 on Sunday. Medvedev and Thiem practised together twice since they arrived in London, where they have both made history. Now they’ll lace up their sneakers one more time and see who lifts the trophy.
The only difference is that this is no longer an early-round junior match in Umag, where they first met when Medvedev was 14. This is for 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] amazing player,” Medvedev said. “I think it’s going to be great tennis tomorrow.”
Did You Know?
A first-time champion at the season finale is guaranteed for the fifth consecutive year.