Nadal stands stock-still for a moment, nonchalantly tosses his racket, greets Medvedev, and my eyeballs are sweating. He goes to celebrate with his team, tears in his eyes, and what a privilege to be living in these times! Six months out, back he comes, makes the final, two sets down, back he comes, and we’re looking at the greatest men’s tennis player of all-time! I’ve never, in all my life, seen will and skill like it! But poor old Daniil – he was almost home, and then he wasn’t anywhere close. Oh man, what a homo sapiens he is, and he’ll be back. But he’ll never, ever get over this, and that’s hard enough for me to take, never mind him.
Rafael Nadal beats Daniil Medvedev 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 to win his 21st major in flabbergasting style! Are we even alive?
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 Medvedev The crowd go wild as Nadal tramps to the baseline, and another terrifying rally unfolds – he defends, then opens his shoulders when the opportunity arises, and that’s 15-0 … then a gigantic serve makes 30-0! an ace follows, his third of the match, and here come three match points! I’m all over the place here, I don’t mind telling you, I’m not even sure I exist, and OH MY LIFE! HE HAD DONE IT! RAFAEL NADAL HAS DONE IT!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 6-5 Medvedev* What it must only take to toss a title, then find enough of yourself in the emotional maelstrom of sickening and exhausted reality to save your life. We wind up at deuce, neither man able to string points together, and a remorseless forehand from Nadal, monstered down the line, earns him break point; Medvedev’s serve rides to rescue yet again. But a backhand then drops wide, and though a big serve lands on the T, a spent forehand couldn’t follow it up! Nadal will now serve for the match, the championship and the history of tennis – again!
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 5-5 Medvedev Nadal chokes! Yes, course he does sweetheart. He makes 30-0 in seconds … then hooks a forehand long to give Medvedev a sniff! … then unloads the suitcase at a second serve and misses! 30-all it is, and Medvedev annihilates the groundstrokes of a desperate man to earn the put away, which he hammers into the court with great vengeance and fuuuurios anger … then Nadal nets! Daniil Medvedev, you are a hero!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 5-4 Medvedev* OH MY ABSOLUTE COMPLETE AND UTTER DAYS! Nadal reads Medvedev’s forehand, picking up on the half-volley to paint a winner down the line for 0-15! Medvedev, though, ain’t going no place, making 30-15 via backhands and forehand put-away … only to plop a double at the worst possible moment! 30-all it is, Nadal sending a backhand wide, table tennis-style, and finally Medvedev finds a drop that works to force Nadal to serve for it: to serve for 21 majors, with an epochal comeback of world-creating proportions. Gird yourselves, people.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 5-3 Medvedev We hit the five-hour mark as Nadal unleashes another petrifying forehand, but Medvedev slyly ups his pace to catch yerman unaware; 15-all. Nadal is standing in the middle of court, daring Medvedev to take him on … and he does, a backhand winner flicked past him making 30-all! This is stupendous, stupefying, stupid stuff, the absolute zenith of humanity – of the seven-odd billion people doing whatever they’re doing, this is where it’s at, and Nadal secures his hold! He’s a game away from 21!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 4-3 Medvedev* If Nadal brings it home, he’ll likely end his career with more majors than Roger Federer, who looks unlikely to win another; Djokovic is another matter, but he’s not had to work as hard for his given how many of them have dome once the other two were past their best. But that’s not for quite now – Medvedev holds to love, and will shortly have another hack at saving himself. Can he find something when there’s nothing left to find?
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 4-2 Medvedev Medvedev can see his life running away from him while Nadal is sprinting towards the light, the absolute state of his forehand punishing 15-0. A big serve down the middle follows, good enough for 30-0, then out of naewhere Medvedev finds a backhand winner cross-court; he’s going to need more of them, and fast. We end up at 40-30 – a chance for Medvedev in the scheme of things, which reminds us how desperate his situation is, and he hangs in the next rally long enough for Nadal to hook a forehand wide! Deuce it is, from 40-15, and for both men these are the days of their lives; I’ve no idea how they’re not in tears at the enormity of it all and I’m pretty close myself. Back and forth we go, Nadal the calmest man in the court, but Medvedev steps into an inside-out backhand to earn himself advantage! Not for long, his opportunity quickly extinguished, but a forehand error from Nadal hands him another … quickly confiscated via booming serve. In maximum half an hour’s time, one or both of these will be in tears, and though he’s down, Medvedev is back on the upswing, frittering another break-back point with a poor backhand. But it’s not enough! Nadal thunders down an overhead, and he’s two games away!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 3-2 Medvedev* From 0-15, Medvedev finds his big serves, but he’s no other weapons and Nadal astonishes a forehand cross-court for 30-all! Another winner follows to set up break point … and again Medvedev finds the serve he needs! The skill and stones to keep going big on the big points! But here he is needing more of the same when Nadal’s forehand is again too much, then an absolute nonsense of a forehand, on the retreat and onto the line, puts Nadal in front for the first time in four and a half hours! It’s not often we get to use the word awesome when we actually mean “awesome”, not “fairly good”, but Rafael Nadal is awesome and then some!
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 2-2 Medvedev Nadal is just an absolute sadist, forcing Medvedev about the court until he fancies a forehand winner prior to standing there like butter wouldn’t melt. Yeah, Rafa old mate, no one will notice – there’s his love hold.
“‘I hope, at least, that it’s Mrs Elswood sweet, the undisputed divinity of the cucumber world,” tweets Arthur Kaletzky quoting me back to myself. “As a fellow native Muscovite I doubt that. We like the non-sweet malosol’nyye (slightly salted, unsweetened) pickled cukes.”
Doesn’t that mean they then taste of cucumber?
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 1-2 Medvedev* It’s hard to see Medvedev putting together four good enough points to break, but that doesn’t mean he won’t break – Nadal is capable of making errors. In the meantime, a welcome love hold buys him brief respite.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 1-1 Medvedev I’m struggling to process the enormity of a Nadal win here – it’d be up there with the best we’ve seen in any sport, not in terms of quality but in terms of mentality, significance and the unfathomable resilience of the most stubborn competitor of all-time. And it looks likely too! Nadal holds to 30, putting Medvedev back in while he’s still reeling from the stress of his previous hold.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 0-1 Medvedev* Nadal has a particular genius for gauging the tempo of a match and changing tactics on the fly – the drops he’s been hitting have put miles into Medvedev’s legs. During changes of ends, Medvedev has been drinking pickle juice, which tells us either that he’s feart of cramping or knows a fine beverage when he sees one; perhaps both. I hope, at least, that it’s Mrs Elswood sweet, the undisputed divinity of the cucumber world. Anyhow, here comes the final set: hang onto your souls, because this is going set them ablaze. And oh Daniil: he opens with a double, again unhappy at crowd noise between the faults, and he’ll be feeling peaky in the extreme; if he loses this, he’ll take it to his grave – these are the stakes. Stakes that ratchet up again when Nadal spirits a backhand winner down the line and on the run for raise break point, Medvedev finding consecutive big serves to reverse the situation. But now it’s Nadal making every rally an occasion – if Medvedev doesn’t get ahead via that first strike, he no longer has the weapons to dictate. And it looks after him here, helping him close out for 1-0; check to Nadal.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 6-4 Medvedev Nadal’s mauve top looks resplendent as he quickly makes 15-0, then Medvedev cracks a backhand into the tape having opened out the point for himself in decent style. A forehand winner follows, Nadal abruptly changing direction, and a serve into the body seals the set! I can barely believe what I’m seeing, even though I’ve seen it over and over again, over the course of nearly two decades!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 5-4 Medvedev* Aaaarrrgggh! Medvedev is labouring and Nadal is reading him like he wrote him, waiting to dematerialise a forehand winner down the line because he knew exactly where the ball would be. Two coruscating backhands then raise set point, and though Medvedev saves it, even if he forces Nadal to serve for it, he’s losing the physical battle now – to a man 10 years his senior! I feel like every sentence I write about Nadal requires an exclamation mark, and after Medvedev eventually closes out, he’ll now serve for a decider!
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 5-3 Medvedev Nadal hooks a forehand long, inviting Medvedev into the game … then he does it again having opened the point with a super serve! What on earth is going on?! But Medvedev can’t tear himself away from these poor drops, another one effectively ceding a point he was in control of for 15-30. Nadal, though, has suddenly dropped, another forehand error giving Medvedev two chances to level the set … that are ripped from him in short order! He just can’t win the crucial points at the moment – he looks tired, especially when wrong-footed by a Nadal forehand. An ace follows, his second of the match, and he’s a game away from bestowing a decider upon us! I don’t know, I really don’t.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 4-3 Medvedev* Medvedev rushes through a love hold, but time is running out for him in this set; the mere prospect of a decider has introduced frisson to strides, presumably the world over.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 4-2 Medvedev The win predictor is still saying 90% Medvedev – based on what, who knows? – but two terrific backhands get him 0-15. The quality of tennis isn’t quite where it has been, but the intensity is off the scale with the errors and exhaustion a central part of that. At 15-all, Nadal finds two ridiculous backhands to steal a point he was never in, then an inside-out forehand on the half-volley followed by a pick-up at the net secure the consolidation! I can barely feel my fingers here, this is something else!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 3-2 Medvedev* Nadal’s backhand is working better than at any time in the match, and successive winners get him 0-30! Medvedev facilitates the second of them, playing a poor volley when he could easily have let the ball bounce, then another jazzer of a backhand raises three more break points! But how well does Medvedev saves the first two, the second via lovely backhand slice volley, then Nadal looks mystified when he overcooks a forehand that was right there for him. Deuce it is, and on game point, Medvedev misjudges an overhead, sending the ball vaulting into the sky, then a poor volley allows Nadal into the net with a choice of winners available to him; he picks the forehand cross-court. Two shrieking forehands from Medvedev get him back to deuce, then a big serve saves a further break point … but again, Nadal finds a big shot when he needs it, changing direction with the forehand to raise a sixth break point. Which Medvedev saves, this time when Nadal doesn’t seize upon a poor drop allowing the forehand winner. But break point number seven soon follows – this is yet another pivotal game – and Nadal is bang on top here, drawing Medvedev to the net then passing him ruthlessly! Suddenly, it’s Nadal hitting winners and control the pace of the rallies! Can he hold onto the advantage this time?
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 2-2 Medvedev It’s just totally befuddling, what Nadal is doing out there. This should not be possible, this is not possible, and I barely know what to do with my little self – but Medvedev isn’t wasting time being awestruck as I am, creaming a backhand down the line for 15-30 before staying in the next point with frankly astonishing de-fence, only for Nadal to laugh at all of it, crunching a forehand onto the line with a cartoon cackle. In my mind, anyway. At 30-all, though, sends a forehand long, then again! Medvedev is the hardest man in the world, securing yet another instant break-back.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 2-1 Medvedev* You know what, that’s not entirely true – Andy Murray represents values of kindness, decency and integrity – but broadly speaking, and for me at least, he’s not been passed down through generations of my family. But back on court, Nadal raises two break points having just saved two – he is a joke – then Medvedev saves one with an ace, only to hand over the second with a double! The crowd boo him – I’m sorry, but they’re idiots, plain and simple – and he salutes them, which is understandable for reasons of self-respect. But you wonder if it’s also a distraction, and for the first time he’ll be feeling the match slipping away. These are not words I supposed to type.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 1-1 Medvedev Medvedev calls for the trainer – that’ll be addressed at next change of ends – then Nadal outlasts him to make 15-0 with a forehand down the line. Medvedev, though, burns a backhand flat and cross-court for 15-all and a double follows; big moments coming up and Medvedev gets himself into position, only to play a poor drop that facilitates Nadal’s winner. But Medvedev doesn’t get distracted, a great backhand down the line setting up a forehand that Nadal fails to get back … just … and that’s 30-40, for as long as it takes Nadal to spring the entirety of himself into a violent forehand down the line. That is borderline illegal, but a wafty forehand hands Medvedev another break point … which he wastes by netting a backhand when nicely set! To deuce we go, and this is absolutely urgent stuff, the intensity unremitting; if Nadal can somehow take this set, we could be talking about an all-time classic, and he gets himself into it by holding, eventually.
“Re: ‘I’ve got to say, I don’t really understand going to watch a tennis match and not wanting both players to play their best,’ emails Michael Meagher, “What’s to understand? If you’re a big fan of one guy you want him to win and it helps if the other guy plays badly. You always want Man Utd to beat Liverpool: sure it would be great if they’re both brilliant and Utd win but you’re not sorry if Liverpool are shite and Utd win. Why would you feel differently if it’s individuals you have those feelings about rather than teams?”
I don’t think supporting a football team is the same as supporting an individual. An individual represents themselves, a football club represents a lot more.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 0-1 Medvedev* Off we go again, the crowd amped, pumped, and numerous other horrible words – Medvedev is not enjoying being the bad guy, at all, and at 30-all his minerals are out for inspection. I’ve got to say, I don’t really understand going to watch a tennis match and not wanting both players to play their best – it’s an individual sport, not one with teams representing family and identity. Medvedev holds to 30, and will now hurl everything into his quest for a break.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 6-4 Medvedev Nadal wastes a forehand down the line to 15-0, and for a fleeting moment he looks 10 years younger. A serve-forehand cross-court combo then make 30-0, and this is just ridiculous behaviour, all the more so when a backhand winner coaxed down the line raises three set points! Nadal is feeling himself here! Another forehand down the line follows, and just look at that! Bow down! Rafael Nadal is Rasputin!
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 5-4 Medvedev* Nadal corrals Medvedev into hitting down the line, ready to send the ball cross-court in response; 0-15. Moments later, it’s 15-40, another jazzer of a point resolved when Medvedev stretches into a loopy backhand get down the line. But he can’t save the second break point, Nadal’s backhand too good, and having been under the pump for almost the entire duration of the set, the ludicrous man is now about to serve for it!
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 4-4 Medvedev Nadal nets a forehand for 0-15, and for how much longer can he stave off the pressure? Well, he runs around his backhand to punish a winner for 15-all, then Medvedev goes long, wide and wide in successive points, and that’s Nadal’s easiest hold in quite some time.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 3-4 Medvedev* If Medvedev can rattle through another quick hold here, Nadal will be back serving before he’s recovered from his previous effort. At 0-15, the umpire has to tell the crowd to can the calling out – it’s such peculiar behaviour, it really is – then on 30-15, Medvedev plays a super point, only clout his clean-up into the net! A glimmer for Nadal, but a backhand winer, ripped cross-court from well inside the baseline, then another into the corner, see Medvedev home.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 3-3 Medvedev Here we go again, a tired forehand down the line flying wide to give Medvedev 0-15; Nadal looked spent in that rally, trying to force a winner just to get the point over, and the same error again has us contemplating the end. All the more so when Medvedev hoists an incredible defensive lob, admittedly from a ball he should never have smelt, eventually yields a murderous forehand down the line that gives him 0-40 and what seem like three effective match points. He saves them all! Of course he does, what an absolute freak of nature he is, and when Medvedev goes long on the backhand, having opened up the court superbly, Nadal has game point. He can’t convert, but eventually toughs out another mini-epic of a hold, outlasting his man in another devastatingly exhausting rally.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 2-3 Medvedev* Nadal sends a racket back to the stringer, then Medvedev sends a backhand cross-court and dipping over the net for 15-0! How did he find so oblique an angle? Medvedev is serving very nicely again, sealing another love hold with a banger out wide.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 2-2 Medvedev Nadal could use a comfy hold here – a break looks in the post – and what a volley he finds to finish a point dominated by Medvedev for 30-0. But from 40-0, Medvedev makes 40-30, and it’s dicey yet again … before a thunderous forehand cinches the game.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 1-2 Medvedev* A love hold, sealed with an ace.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 1-1 Medvedev You fear for Nadal now, because Medvedev immediately wades into his serve, a barrage of booming forehands earning 0-15. If he can find his top level or something close to it, he might run away with this set, and a forehand winner down the line makes 0-30; what does Nadal have left? Er, plenty, obviously, a belting serve facilitating a forehand whipped down the line before another serve/forehand combo ties up Medvedev so completely that he has to return from above his head, on the crouch. Nadal, though, goes long on the forehand at 40-30 and he’s back to where he was in set one: everything a struggle. But when he needs first serves he finds them, a 195km/h winner securing the game – eventually.
Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 0-1 Medvedev* Medvedev nips off for a change of outfit – what does he think this is, Eurovision? – leaving Nadal to stew over losing a set in which he was forever ahead until he wasn’t.Ah, Nadal has left too, and I don’t think he can play much better than he did in that set, which isn’t to say he’s at the top of his game, just that his opponent is too good for him sustain a level beyond where he currently is. And right on cue, he starts set three well with a booming forehand, gets to 15-30 … then Medvedev suddenly reverses momentum in the next point, annihilating a backhand winner cross-court when 15-40 looked inevitable. We end up at deuce, Nadal saving one game-point with a forehand into the corner and Medvedev wasting another with a double – he looks flustered, losing patience with the ball-kids for whatever reason. That’ll sort it. Nadal then misses break point with a half-arsed backhand, and eventually successive aces secure a colossal hold.
*Nadal 2-6 (5)6-7 Medvedev But a fine return from Medvedev, chasing out wide, catches Nadal on his way in with a ball that dips onto his tootsies, then the crowd think Nadal has won another terrific point when Medvedev drills into the net with the court gaping … but they’d not heard the out call that preceded it. All of a sudden, it’s Medvedev looking the stronger, and he earns his first set point … then seals it with a glooooorious backhand down the line! Well might he noise up the crowd! He is so, so close and what a set (of tennis) that was!
*Nadal 2-6 6-6 Medvedev (5-3) The match hits the two-hour mark as Medvedev trusts himself at the net to put away a volley for 3-3. Both men are expending a frankly terrifying amount of energy here – if Medvedev can win this, you couldn’t see Nadal outlasting him to win three sets on the spin – but he might not need to, more forehand behaviour regaining the mini-break!
*Nadal 2-6 6-6 Medvedev (3-2) In a breaker, I’d almost always back the bigger server, but this is Nadal, and it’s he who gets the mini-break when a poor first volley causes a wide second one. Nadal is really turning up the forehand power here, but after a succession are returned like it’s nothing, he nets and we’re back on serve.
Nadal 2-6 6-6 Medvedev* Medvedev swipes a backhand long for 15-all, and what a sapping set this has been and still is. Beautiful. Medvedev sends Nadal to hither and yon for 30-15, but another lush drop sets up 30-all … so an ace banged down the middle and another dominating serve and drive-volley quickly secure the breaker! Medvedev is an all-round animal – he does pretty much everything superbly or better.
*Nadal 2-6 6-5 Medvedev Ah, I owe an apology: the disturbance earlier was a protest at the treatment of refugees; well done that person. Back to the present, Nadal nets a weak backhand for 30-all, and we might now be living the crucial stage of the match: a break here will seem a lot like curtains, but Medvedev goes long on the backhand – you don’t see that happen often. Still, we end up at deuce when Nadal nets again, and he does just enough to make advantage only to go wide on the forehand, picking up a short ball – you don’t see that often either. He closes out, though, guaranteeing himself a breaker – at least.
Nadal 2-6 5-5 Medvedev* Has Nadal’s chance gone? Medvedev powers through a hold to 15, the first serves back and ensconced, and Nadal now has to go to the well again, just a couple of minutes after fighting so hard to achieve disappointment.
*Nadal 2-6 5-4 Medvedev Nadal nets an overhead for 0-15, then spoons a forehand; he’s still getting very little for free, which is why errors, technically unforced but really the weight of pressure, are pockmarking his game. he gets to 15-30, though, then Medvedev really steps into the point, unfurling the drive backhand to raise two break-back points. Nadal saves the first with a serve-volley … and the second with a monstrous inside-out forehand to the corner, setting up the put-away! Onto deuce we go, whereupon Medvedev sticks a backhand onto the final fibre of the sideline! Naturally, we then pause for the removal of some kind of intruder – what a twonk – before another gorgeous drop saves Nadal again! Absolute hands! This is developing into exactly the match we hoped – though let’s be real, we need Nadal to win this set – but he’s struggling, another drop opening the court only for one to catch the frame and land fractionally long! Yeah, alright, Nadal obviously dredges an ace from the deepest recesses of his soul to save another break-back point … but botches his first set-point with a tired backhand into the net. This is expletive brutal in the best possible way, and Medvedev’s ability to make every point an occasion is just too much! Down advantage, Nadal goes long on the forehand, and that is an unbelievable game from Medvedev, who just would not let go!
Nadal 2-6 5-3 Medvedev* Medvedev’s first double of the match gives Nadal 15-all, and though a backhand down the line puts away a short ball, at 30-all here comes another chance. AND MEDVEDEV NETS A BACKHAND! Nadal’s slice puts him under pressure, zoning low over the net – Medvedev’s first serves have vanished here – and a tremendous point from Nadal, a drop so good it incites a slip, seal another break! Nadal will now serve for the set!
*Nadal 2-6 4-3 Medvedev Is Medvedev back into it? He makes 0-30 before a wickedly swerving second-serve, right onto the edge, facilitates the clean-up, then we have a point like so many others: Medvedev dictating, Nadal unable to find a route into the rally, and a long backhand gives us 15-40. Yup, that was Medvedev’s dip, it lasted three games – good luck with that Rafa old pal – and another error – another backhand that drops long – secures the break-back!
“Somewhere I read that the calling is an automated system,” says Andrew Benton, “all done by modern tech, no live voices involved, only pre-recordeds. And no human error! Can that be so? Are there no lines-people on court?”
I’m not sure about that. I was in the discotheque last night, I admit, but I’m absolutely certain the voices are changing – though perhaps that’s part of the show.
Nadal 2-6 4-2 Medvedev* Medvedev could use a cheap hold here, and an ace gives him 30-0, then another seals his first game in three.
*Nadal 2-6 4-1 Medvedev The calling of “Out!” ramps up another level as Medvedev goes long – there was definite pleasure, and a kind of pedagogical disappointment, in that – and an ace, his first of the match, gives Nadal 40-15. Then a serve out wide allows a simple volley at the net, and MOmentum – we’re in Australia, so – has switched!
Nadal 2-6 3-1 Medvedev* All Nadal can do is keep holding; he needs Medvedev’s level to drop, otherwise he’s hoping for a point here and there, because he doesn’t have the game to dominate. Goodness, we’ve finally got here, after all these years. But he gets 0-15 and a second serve – in the context a chance – then Medvedev goes long on the backhand! A sniff! And HAVE A LOOK! At 15-30, the longest rally of the match, 40 shots, at the end of which Nadal invents an angle, a backhand slice from the corner that arcs to the opposite side of the court, dropping over the net and away! That is ridiculous, and with two break points Nadal converts the second! Are there any tougher competitors in the entirety of sport? I am in absolute awe!
*Nadal 2-6 2-1 Medvedev Better from Nadal, dictating the first point of the game with his forehand, but he still has to work like a beast to win it; he’s getting nowt for free. Incidentally, is it just me, or has the calling of “out” gone up a notch this tournament – whoever’s doing it seems to be taking serious pleasure in the definitiveness of his style, almost offering the players out. Anyway, from 30-0 we end up at 30-all – Nadal just can’t get a breath – but he wins the next two points to hold again.
Nadal 2-6 1-1 Medvedev* In theory, a couple of big forehands is all it takes to alter the flow of this, but Medvedev is doing a brilliant job of taking them away, patient in the rallies as he works Nadal about the court, not allowing him to set. But a long forehand off a net-cord gives Nadal a sniff at 30-15 … and a fifth ace immediately follows, then a serve out wide and simple clean-up at the net. Nadal just can’t get anything going.
*Nadal 2-6 1-0 Medvedev Can Nadal find something? At the moment, it’s hard to even imagine what that might be, because Medvedev is just too good, asking all the questions. He’s moving so well that it’s tricky for Nadal to manufacture angles – he just gets to everything in good time – but this is a better service-game for him, getting the forehand going to dictate a couple of rallies. Even so, an error means he winds up at 40-30, under pressure even when Medvedev barely exerts any, before he closes out for his first game in six.
Nadal 2-6 Medvedev* This is not something you see often, Rafael Nadal floundering in a final; I’m feeling quite emotional typing it. But he paggas a forehand winner to remind himself that he still can … then an ace follows, of course it does. Medvedev is serving beautifully here, and he soon earns himself two set points, Nadal nets on the return, and that is five – games – in – a – row for Medvedev, who eases to the first set 6-2!
*Nadal 2-5 Medvedev Nadal opens the game with his first double of the match, then another follows! Medvedev is telling here, and he outlasts Nadal in the next point, a long rally that he finishes with a forehand down the line, pouncing onto a short ball and punishing the winner. 0-40, Nadal goes long with a forehand volley, and this is one-way traffic! Medvedev has the double-break and, for the now at least, Nadal’s number!
Nadal 2-4 Medvedev* If anyone’s going to win easily, you’d assume it’ll be Medvedev – Nadal needs to grind him down, and currently, that’s not looking likely. But Nadal opens his shoulders on a forehand, turning up the pace and surprising Medvedev, who nets; 0-15. Medvedev, though, is so composed out there, an ace giving him 30-15 – he’s only missed two first serves so far – then at 40-15, Nadal gets the sonic-boom forehand going … before Medvedev closes out the consolidation, and that’s three in a row for him now.
*Nadal 2-3 Medvedev Pressure again, Medvedev making 0-30 on Nadal’s serve, and when Nadal goes long on the backhand – at the end of a really well put-together point by Medvedev, working his man about the court – we have three break points. And only one is required, Nadal looping another tame backhand over the baseline! Medvedev looks the better player, and this had been coming.
“I still can’t believe Nadal is playing for his 21st Grand Slam title,” emails Yash Gupta. “I wasn’t much into tennis until nine-year-old me watched Nadal beat the greatest of all and my favourite, Roger Federer, in the 2008 final. Since then, there have been questions almost on a yearly basis: can he continue? Can his body handle all this? In many ways watching Nadal play brings the excitement in itself. Sorry Daniel but let’s go Rafa.”
I’ve no dog in this one, both are amazing. I can take pleasure in either winning.
Nadal 2-2 Medvedev* Medvedev’s serve is very nicely grooved and Nadal is trying to vary his responses, taking the pace off to set up the forehand. But Medvedev’s backhand is also working nicely, and he holds to 15.
“Rafa in 4 or Daniil in 5 or Rafa in 5 or Daniil in 4,” tweets John McEnerney, “but I don’t see this being done in 3 by either of them. As Mills Lane & Marvin Gaye say ‘Let’s get it on’. Ding-dong battle coming up.”
That’s it – you can make a case for absolutely anything.
*Nadal 2-1 Medvedev Nadal goes long with a backhand, and it’s Medvedev with the rallying edge at the moment. Nadal, though, has plenty of time to adapt – there aren’t many, if any, who are better – but he’s being directed around the court at the moment, and at the end of this latest point, a 26-shotter, Medvedev absolutely clatters a backhand winner flat down the line. 0-30, and the first little opportunity of the match. And there it is again, but at the net, Medvedev races to the net and goes straight down the middle with both corners available; somehow, Nadal flicks a pick-up from by his toes for a clean winner, then puts away a stop-volley with 15-40 looking inevitable! This has looked like a break to love, but he we are, at 30-all and cooking! Nadal’s backhand is causing him aggro here, and Medvedev picks it out, prompting a response to drop long; again, Nadal then rescues himself with a volley! He has been almost perfect at the net so far and he’ll be pursuing the tactic I shouldn’t wonder, because he needs to keep the points short. Anyway, Nadal saves another break point on advantage, with a vicious, spitting service, then closes out quickly, and he has is finding what he needs when he needs it. But for how long?
Nadal 1-1 Medvedev* Nadal keeps Medvedev waiting just a few seconds – his dedication to the art of gentlemanly gamesmanship is delicious. For all the good it does him: Medvedev holds to 15, sealing the game with an ace out wide, and he’s picked up where he left off against Tsitsipas.
*Nadal 1-0 Medvedev There’s a decent racket as the players pause before the start, then Nadal takes the first point of the match with a trademark forehand whip. It might just be the greatest shot in the history of the sport, but he hooks one wide for 15-all. Then Medvedev goes long on the backhand return and wide on the forehand – the players aren’t quite settled yet, Nadal netting a forehand for 40-30, then a backhand for deuce. The rallies are starting to come now, Nadal looking to dictate with that forehand, and he quickly closes out to get on the board.
“Yes the colour is tone-perfect,” says Anna McCarthy, “as if it represents him being fully realised somehow.”
It’s got a level of clarity to it, or something. I am lost in it.
Right, here we go!
Of course, these two have Major-final history: they met at the US in 2019, Nadal winning in five after Medvedev fought back from 0-2 down. But things have changed a lot since then: Medvedev is much better, while Nadal has been out for six months; just getting to this point is a ridiculous piece of work on his part.
The trophy sits by the net and the players perform the toss. Nadal wins and opts to serve.
Out he comes, in his usual affirming shade of mauve. I think it might remind me of something from my childhood, because I find its vividness almost moving.
This is Nadal’s 17th Australian Open. Effort.
Here come the players!
Thinking more about the match-up, I wonder if it’ll be settled by the battle of the forehands: Nadal’s loopy, hooky, kicking brute v Medvedev’s flatter whipcrack. Again, I’m finding myself leaning Nadal, but it might just be conditioning.
It’s brilliant that people, Nadal included, are surprised that Nadal has been playing tennis well. Of all the things! Whatever next?!
And yet, it is surprising. Sport!
Medvedev’s interviews have become as unmissable as his tennis over the last bit. He’s got just the right mix of honesty, earnesty and edge, somehow humble and likable while nurturing indiscriminate grievances. A heady mix.
Mac has gone for Medvedev in five, which sounds fair, but you could pretty much pick and justify any outcome.
Both our finalists have been back from the brink. Medvedev did brilliantly to fight back from 0-2 down to Auger-Aliassime, saving a match point, while Nadal did likewise against Shapovalov – though his was a more compliant opponent. We could be here some time.
We’re now watching the wonderful Ash Barty. What a human being she is, and if she can keep at it there are a fair few Slams out there for her because no one can match her consistency or equanimity.
Not gonna lie, I’m still buzzing from yesterday’s men’s doubles. Winning a major with my best mate is extremely high on my to-do list, and seeing Kyrgios and Kokkinakis pull it off did my soul good.
He can’t do it again can he? Er yeah, he can. In 2017, Rafael Nadal won the US Open without beating a single top-20, opponent, the only time that’s ever happened. And though this won’t be that, there’d still be something of the sneak about it: in the weaker half of the draw, with no Novak Djokovic (and no, Novak Djokovic), then Alexander Zverev eliminated early.
But to win the final, he’ll have to go some. Daniil Medvedev is a serious business and, having won Flushing Meadow, holds himself like a champion and knows he can do it when he really needs to.
We still can’t be certain about him – he’ll probably turn up – in the way we can be certain about Nadal – he’ll definitely turn up. But this has the makings of a terrific contest, because the match-up is tight. Historically, Nadal struggles – relatively speaking! – against tall players with good backhands – think Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka and early Del Potro – because their height neutralises his biggest weapon, the high forehand into the aforementioned good backhand – and Medvedev is absolutely in their category.
One way of looking at things. Another, though, would note that Medvedev tends to win matches by serving big, keeping a good length and not missing from the back – he doesn’t hit many winners off the ground, so if he doesn’t make his first serves he can struggle to close out big matches because he’s relying on his opponent missing. Nadal, on the other hand, is similar in that he doesn’t miss many from the baseline, but different in that he also hits plenty of winners.
That’s one reason this blog leans towards a 21st major rather than a second. But the main motivator is that number and what it means: Nadal knows he won’t get many more goes at being tennis’ most, er, winningest man of all time, which is to say he’ll be absolutely feral out there, in the best possible way. Get settled, because this is going to be great.
Play: 7.30pm local, 8.30am GMT
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