New York | Nadal to stave off NextGen challenge
The men’s semi-finals due to be played Friday on Arthur Ashe Stadium, surprisingly in many people’s eyes, only features one of the ‘Big Three’ as the defending champion Novak Djokovic and five-time winner Roger Federer, failed to live up to their seeded expectations.
I really believe that if you want to win tournaments, you need to go through tough opponents like I had against Marin (Cilic) and against Diego (Schwartzman) Rafa Nadal
Does this herald a changing of the guard?
The former Grand Slam champion and world number one who is now one of the best commentators on the sport, Jim Courier, certainly believes that in the coming years tournament winners will be harder to predict as the numbers of players increase.
Speaking about the American challenges he told Reuters: “Sure, it has been difficult for American men to win majors, but it has been difficult for anyone outside of the top four or five players to win in the last 15 years.
“It has been more of a question of era in many ways as opposed to a singular American problem.
“I think there is going to be a lot of open road for our players in the next five years or so when these incredible legends eventually leave the game.
“I think we’ll get a little more of a return to normalcy where players are going to win six or seven majors but not 16, 17, 18, 19, 20..”
Meanwhile Rafael Nadal is taking nothing for granted as he bids to close in on Roger Federer’s grand-slam record as the Spaniard continues his quest to win his fourth US Open and 19th Grand Slam title to edge closer to the Swiss’ record of 20.
He is certainly favourite to do that but after easing himself into the championships, his last two matches have seen him drop a set and, against Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday, he needed attention to his racket arm before clinching victory.
The world No.2 Nadal now faces the big hitting Matteo Berrettini, the Italian 24th seed, for a place in the final against either Daniil Medvedev or Grigor Dimitrov.
Nadal has never played the 23-year-old, who reached his first grand slam semi- final after coming through five gruelling sets against Gael Monfils.
The Mallorcan said in advance of their match, “He is having a great year. He’s in the semi-finals, winning a lot of good matches. In the semi-finals of a Grand Slam you can’t expect an easy opponent. You can’t expect an easy match.
“I really believe that if you want to win tournaments, you need to go through tough opponents like I had against Marin (Cilic) and against Diego.
“He was playing great the whole event, and now another player is playing great. He’s serving huge, big forehands, moving well, and big confidence because he’s having a great year.”
The 10-year age gap highlights the two eras with Berrettini revealing he watched Nadal win the 2005 Italian Open over five-sets against Guillermo Coria which irritated him because it was being shown on a cartoon channel.
“They were showing the match on the TV for free, but it was, like, a channel that was about cartoons,” he related. “I was young. These guys, I mean, six hours. Come on! I want to catch my cartoons!”
In the top half Dimitrov and Medvedev meet in the first semi-final, a match-up not many would have predicted considering it included Djokovic and Federer.
Injuries have seen Bulgarian Dimitrov, a former world No.3, slip to 78 in the rankings making his win over Federer – his first in eight attempts – all the more surprising. “It was pretty special to me,” he admitted.
Considering the miserable year he has had, his arrival in the last four was unexpected but his talent has been evident for many years but for various reasons, was never fulfilled. This is not the first time he has made the pre-final match of a Grand Slam having featured in the semi-finals at Wimbledon (2014) and the Australian Open (2017).
Medvedev though is the in-form player and it is difficult to bet against him making his debut in a Grand Slam final.
But it’s Nadal title for the taking, so believes Patrick McEnroe of ESPN.
“Nadal’s playing as well as he’s played in a while here,’’ McEnroe told The New York Post. “I picked him to win before the start, and nothing I’ve seen changed my mind. I think Berrettini will be a solid player. It’s hard to see how he’ll break Nadal down the way he’s serving. I’d be surprised if [Berrrettini] won a set. For him, it’s already a success – for Nadal, the tournament is just starting.”