The ATP Finals 2020 is down to its business end as Rafael Nadal faces Daniil Medvedev in the first semi-final. Nadal has another good opportunity to clinch his first-ever ATP Finals title and faces an opponent outside the ‘Big 4’ in the semi-final for the first time.
In five final-4 appearances at the season-ending finale in the past, he faced Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Murray. While not seeing one of those faces on the other side of the net is positive for Nadal, things will not get easier against Medvedev.
One only has to look back at what happened last year when the two players met in the group stage. Nadal produced one of his most miraculous comebacks, recovering from 1-5 down in the deciding set to win the match in a tie-breaker. The Spaniard did not qualify for the semi-finals but would look back at that match in great light.
Nadal has looked better in some aspects this week in London. Even in the match that he lost to Dominic Thiem, Nadal produced a very high level of tennis. Barring a few hiccups, he has looked good on serve throughout the week. Also, he has not been afraid to take risks under pressure as well.
The world number two was quite dominant against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday for the better part of the first two sets, despite what the scoreline suggested. He hardly gave away any points on serve and kept challenging Tsitsipas’s serve.
However, a poor service game pushed the match into a third set. Nadal then brushed away the disappointment to eventually seal the deciding set 6-2. Nadal was solid in the match against Tsitsipas and made very few unforced errors.
Medvedev is a similar challenge for Nadal in the sense that he is another tall player with a big serve. However, Medvedev is trickier and different in many other aspects.
The Russian player has been very impressive on his serve and has gained many free points with it. His flat hitting in these conditions has also caused a lot of problems to his opponents, and Medvedev won all three of his matches quite comfortably. One of those wins was against Novak Djokovic.
The 24-year-old has not dropped more than four games in a single set all week and has dropped only 19 games in three matches. The shades of Medvedev from the 2019 American tennis summer are visible again when he and Nadal played an epic match at the US Open.
On Friday, he brushed aside the challenge of Diego Schwartzman to ensure he does not enter the semi-final too fatigued.
Medvedev is yet to win a match against Nadal, who has won all three of their battles, all on hard-courts. However, two of those three matches were the ATP Finals and US Open matches last year. The other match was at the ATP Rogers Cup Masters event, another final, which Nadal won very comfortably.
Nadal will need to continue his strong show on serve. Medvedev has not shown any signs of giving away cheap points on his own serve, and the difference could come down to a very few and crucial points.
Nadal will need to continue to take the game to Medvedev. Attacking and approaching the net on the big points is one of Nadal’s key plays, and he has better anticipation than most players.
Nadal also has a very strong record in matches where he wins the first set at the ATP Finals. A strong start is crucial for Nadal, and he will look to come out of the blocks quite strongly. Medvedev, on the other hand, will look to keep up his momentum and does not need to change much.
At the same time, it is important for him to not let the ghosts of the 2019 match define how he plays on Saturday. The match could come down to who plays the big points better and experience could just tip the scales in Nadal’s favor.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in three sets.