Rafael Nadal finds himself close to the ATP Finals title yet again. In an illustrious career that has seen him win so many major titles, the season-ending finale is one big title that still eludes him. While he does not face a member of the ‘Big 4’ for the first time in an ATP Finals semi-final, Nadal faces a tough opponent in Daniil Medvedev on Saturday.
More importantly, Nadal faces the only unbeaten player so far at the ATP Finals 2020, in the semi-finals. Medvedev is on a roll, having dropped only 19 games in all against three top-eight opponents. One of those opponents was the world number one, Novak Djokovic.
Medvedev had a challenging year, particularly since the restart, until recently. He is now on an eight-match winning streak, and he looks quite motivated to end his year with another big title.
The key for the Russian star going into the match against Nadal is that he looks in great shape, both mentally and physically. Medvedev found back the pace and consistency on his groundstrokes on his way to the Rolex Paris Masters 2020 title. He has carried the same momentum into the ATP Finals 2020.
The last match that Nadal really struggled in was against Alexander Zverev in Paris earlier this month. There, Zverev used his serve and his height advantage extremely well and generated serious pace on his shots during the rallies.
Medvedev can do a lot more of the same and his ability to consistently hit the ball flat and make it stay low is something Nadal has a lot of difficulty against.
The 24-year-old troubled Nadal on the same court last year, before the Spanish legend made a stunning comeback from 1-5 down in the deciding set to win the group stage match. For Medvedev, it is important to not let that loss affect his mindset in Saturday’s semi-final.
However, Medvedev was also off his game in the ATP Finals week last year. He lost all three of his matches in 2019 but comes into this year’s match against Nadal on the back of three very strong wins. That should take care of the mental aspect for the world number four.
Medvedev’s serve was broken only once in his three matches. It happened against Zverev in the opening match, and in his next two matches, Medvedev has faced only three break-points in all. Against Djokovic, who is one of the best returners of serve in the sport, Medvedev had his best performance on serve.
He faces another brilliant returner and Medvedev knows he needs to do more of the same. He has also done well on the return of serve himself. In conditions where the serve is a big weapon, Medvedev managed to break each of his opponents thrice so far.
Against Djokovic, Medvedev also thrived from the baseline, which he will again need to do against Nadal. He has also mixed things up very well and can do more of the same against Nadal by using the drop-shot to good effect. He has used that shot quite effectively all week.
Medvedev will need to come out of the blocks aggressively himself. Nadal has a good record in matches where he wins the first set and has won 71 straight matches after doing so. And once Medvedev gains the early advantage, he has shown throughout the tournament that he will not let go of that advantage easily.
It should be a tougher match for the Russian against an inspired Nadal, but the Russian is in ‘the zone’. He is one of the players who when in the zone, is quite difficult to conquer.