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Friday, May 20, 2022
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Australian Open Men’s Final Preview

At the start of each major when the draw is first announced, there are inevitably a handful of matches that everyone hopes to see in the final. Now, after six rounds of play, one of those games has come to fruition. Daniil Medvedev upheld his account as the highest seed in the tournament and backed up his result from a year ago by reaching the final. Opposite him is a well-known enemy in Rafael Nadal, a man who wants to stand alone in the slam race by winning a record-twenty-first major singles title. On Sunday evening they will meet to decide whether Medvedev can continue the stranglehold of the original Big 3 on the sport, or if Nadal will send an emphatic message to the rest of the field that he is back and far from ready to win the most coveted titles in tennis.

With just four spots apart at two and six respectively, there is not much daylight between Medvedev and Nadal when you look at who has the lead. Both are known for delivering spectacular defenses, making it very difficult to hit through them. Every man also has an extraordinarily high shot tolerance, so unforced errors usually do not come from spilling their rackets. They are comfortable producing attack from any wing and they each boast service that can earn them free points and put them in the driver’s seat.

With both men having so many similar strengths, it’s going to be so much more essential that they capitalize on those areas where they differ. In the case of Medvedev, he tends to flatten, which should serve him well on this surface and give him a few more opportunities to take control of the rallies. Especially when he gets a glimpse of a second discount, he should be willing to take off. By 66“, He should be able to handle Nadal’s topspin a little better than most, especially with his two – handed back hand, which is his more solid foundation. Provided he avoids falling too far behind the baseline and playing within himself, he should have the advantage – however small – of enforcing his will in this game.

However, Nadal is no stranger to dominating opponents, and he is great at making life difficult for them. The top spin he delivers on his forehand is still one of the toughest strokes to handle in tennis, and he hit it well to devastating effect from every corner on the court. He’s going to have to do it on Sunday to keep the Russian in check. Like the second seed, Nadal must also ensure that he makes a concerted effort to stay on that baseline and, where possible, utilize his superior net skills. His fitness and defense are two qualities that made him a legend, but given how little he played between September and now, the way he felt exhausted after his five-set thriller against Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals, and the fact that Medvedev is ten. years younger than he is, it’s one of those rare occasions where a war of attrition may not be in his best interest. The more effective he can be by taking it to his opponent, the better.

However, for all their excellent skills on the track, the ability to make those amazing shots or come up with the goods when the chips are off, comes down to the fact that they have the mental strength to handle the scope of the moment. Sentiment, and frankly habit, will indicate that Nadal is getting the go-ahead in this important area of ​​success. As mentioned before, he’s going for a record-twenty-first major singles title, so he clearly knows what he’s about when he gets to this point. He surprised himself with how quickly he found his form at the start of this season, so there could be some degree of pressure from his shoulders as he goes for a win he did not see coming so early. Furthermore, he has a 3-1 leads in his rivalry with the Russians, including a five-set victory three years ago in the USA Open final. He may feel the pressure to try to break his three-way band with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for most major titles, and there may be a bit of a mental block at this particular venue, as the Australian Open is currently the only one major remains what he only won once. However, if he handles these two hurdles, he could very well be the winner on Sunday.

But fans will not count Medvedev’s chance to keep his seedlings alive. The Russian has shown that he is a fast learner in his rivalry with Nadal. Their first three meetings all came in 2019, and after winning only three matches at that first event in Canada, the Russian almost made a two-set return in that USA Open final before losing a third-set tiebreak at the ATP World Cup final. He got his revenge against the Spaniard by turning his gaze on Nadal at the year-end championships a year later. He also broke through in New York last summer to win his first major, so he enters this game knowing that he too has what it takes to go all the way at once. And perhaps most importantly, based on the way he played against Nadal and Djokovic before – which he did in the USA Open final last summer – he looks like a man who believes he not only belongs on the track with these legends, but he expects to win.

Suffice it to say, if these competitors bring their best, it should be a giant final with very little to choose between the two. It will hardly be a surprise, no matter which man is the last one standing. As such, there is a strong case to be made that that man will be Medvedev, and yet it is difficult to bet against Nadal. Getting under the radar, just the way he likes it, and seeing Djokovic, his main opponent, removed before the tournament even got underway, it just feels like all the pieces have fallen into place for Nadal around the point of earning the hat ensures an astonishing twenty-first major single title.

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