Last month, Rafael Nadal shocked the world when the 35-year-old Spaniard fought back from two sets down against Daniil Medvedev to win an epic five-set victory in the 2022 Australian Open and claim his 21st – and greatest – major championship. Nadal has now underlined that famous triumph with a 6-3, 6-3 straight-sets win in the rematch, crushing his Russian rival – and recently crowned ATP world No 1 – to advance to the Mexico Open final and remain undefeated in his 14 matches this year.
Medvedev only yesterday learned that he had broken the five-year stranglehold of ‘The Big Three’ on men’s tennis’s No 1 ranking. One of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal had held the top slot since Briton Andy Murray ceded it on August 20, 2017. Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion, was all set to ascend to the top of the pile when the next batch of rankings was released Monday February 28.
That achievement will now ring a little hollow after Nadal again outclassed and outmuscled him in Acapulco. Unlike Melbourne, where the 26-year-old Russian surged to a two-set lead it was the Spaniard who got off to a fast start. Medvedev was forced to defend a couple of breakpoints in his very first service game, before Nadal broke minutes later to take a 3-1 lead, which he held onto to claim the first set 6-3.
Nadal, who sat out much of 2021 with a foot injury that required surgery in September, is undefeated in 2022 and carried a 13-0 record into this semi-final. The depth of his recovery showed in the second set, breaking Medvedev’s serve early to go 1-0 up. But Medvedev grew into the contest as the set progressed and began causing the Spaniard all kinds of problems with his backhand drop shot.
Medvedev earned a total of 11 breakpoints across just two of Nadal’s service games in the second set. A six-deuce game was followed by a nine-deuce game at 3-2 as seven break points came and went for the Russian and Nadal dug deep, saving break points with equal parts aggression and patience, frequently closing points at the net following punishing serves and forehands to snuff out any attempted comeback.
Nadal’s holds under pressure eventually took the wind out of Medvedev’s sails and the Russian was broken once again as an unforced backhand error handed Nadal the win and set up a clash on Sunday against British No 1 Cameron Norrie in the final.
“I played some amazing points on the break points,” said Nadal, who noted that the heat and high bounce on the stadium court helped his game. “The second set was very emotional. Daniil was playing very aggressive — drop shots, winners. It was a very difficult set. I feel lucky to win that set because he had a lot of chances.”
Nadal’s own dreams of wresting back the No 1 ranking he lost to Novak Djokovic in 2020, are firmly on the back burner. “I do not see myself chasing the No 1 position again, unfortunately,” he told reporters this week. “My physical issues prevented me from finishing the season at the top a few more times, and I have different goals today. Chasing the ATP throne would be a mistake at this point in my career.
“I will be thrilled to become world No 1 contender with my light schedule, but I’m not changing my calendar just to get more points. There are many younger players ready to compete throughout the season, and I have to pick my tournaments more carefully.”
Not so Medvedev, who was unabashed about his dream to claim the top ranking. “When you’re young you feel like it’s impossible, so that’s why you dream about it,” Medvedev said after his victory over Pablo Andujar on Thursday. “When it becomes closer to you, you dream less about it and do more to achieve it.”