Expert picks are back for the Australian Open semifinals on Tuesday, when Rafael Nadal battles Matteo Berrettini and Daniil Medvedev goes up against Stefanos Tsitsipas. A three-team panel previews the action and makes its predictions.
(7) Matteo Berrettini vs. (6) Rafael Nadal
Ricky: The simple question is which Nadal is going to be on display. Will it be the one who was dealing with physical problems during his five-set struggle against Denis Shapovalov on Tuesday? Or is it going to be the one who is 8-0 this season and had been pretty much dominating all of his opponents prior to the quarterfinals? If it’s the latter, I can not see Berrettini winning this matchup – not on anything other than grass or a lightning fast indoor hard court. There will be too many long rallies in which his vulnerable backhand gets exposed by the Spaniard’s heavy topspin forehand. To be clear, I would not bet with confidence on either side because of Nadal’s somewhat questionable status. But all things being equal the 20-time major champion should win this one. Nadal in 4: 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Cheryl: The outcome of this match will depend heavily on whether Nadal has recovered from his five-set victory over Shapovalov. The Spaniard reported suffering heat stroke during the match and described himself as “physically destroyed” in his post-match presser. If the two days’ rest is sufficient, Nadal has to be considered the favorite in this match for several reasons. First, despite earning a spot in his first Australian Open semifinal Berrettini has been a bit vulnerable this fortnight. Only one of his matches was a routine straight-set win. Next, the slower surface (blue GreenSet) neutralizes some of the free points he usually gets on his first serve. Lastly, except for the issue with heat Nadal has been in impressive form. He has some extra pop on his serve and he has taken a more aggressive position on the baseline than usual. Nadal in 4: 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
Pete (Tennis Acumen): Despite five appearances in the final, the AO is Nadal’s “least” successful major. Currently he has a prime opportunity to accomplish the double-career Grand Slam with a win this year in Melbourne. After surviving a tougher than expected quarterfinal against Shapovalov, Nadal will not want to put himself in such dangerous scenarios in this match against even better competition. Similarly, Berrettini also blew a two sets to love lead in his quarter against a spirited and loose Gael Monfils before recovering in the fifth. The Italian now must face a man who has won 20 majors rather than someone with two major semifinal appearances to his name. At this stage of a slam, Nadal carries the banner for the Big 3 and will likely display the brand of tennis that the Big 3 absolutely deliver time and time again on the grandest of stages. Nadal gets to the doorstep of 21 as experience – especially at key junctures – wins this match. Nadal in 4: 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4.
(4) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (2) Daniil Medvedev
Ricky: My popcorn is popped for this one. They do not necessarily hate each other at this point, but they definitely do not like each other. Last year’s Grand Slam matchups were never going to be good. Tsitsipas was sapped of energy after beating Nadal in five sets in the Aussie Open quarterfinals, after which he got smoked by the Russian in the semis. Medvedev is probably never going to compete with the Greek on clay, and he did not in the French Open quarters. This one features a more level playing field. It’s true Medvedev is coming off a four-hour and 42-minute thriller against Felix Auger-Aliassime, but the world no. 2 is one of the fittest guys in the business and he has never had any stamina-related issues. He should be fine. Tsitsipas played his best match in ages against Jannik Sinner, but asking for two in a row when he had previously been in a significant slump may be too much – especially against a backboard of an opponent who is going to make him hit tons and tons of tennis balls. Medvedev in 4: 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2.
Cheryl: Of the two semifinals, this is perhaps the more intriguing. Medvedev and Tsitsipas are not friends. The two men had a highly publicized on-court argument at the Miami Masters in 2018, in which Medvedev accused Tsitsipas of calling him “a bullshit Russian” following a controversy over a strategically timed bathroom break by Tsitsipas. Since then their meetings have ranged from displays of simmering dislike and frosty indifference. The matchup heavily favors Medvedev, who holds a 6-2 record over Tsitsipas, but the Greek got a big win at the French Open last year. Honestly (and surprisingly), it’s Tsitsipas who has been the better player during week two. He dispatched Sinner in easy straight sets in the quarters, while Medvedev had to claw his way back from a two sets to love deficit against Auger-Aliassime. I still like the Russian in Melbourne, but this is not likely to be a straight set repeat of Medvedev’s SF win a year ago. Tsitsipas is going to make him work for it. Medvedev in 5: 5-7, 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
Pete: This will be the third time Medvedev and Tsitsipas will meet in the last five majors. The last four overall meetings have been split, with the victor winning in straight sets each time. Medvedev once again exhibited how difficult it is to oust him at a major in his resilient win over Auger-Aliassime in the quarters. In each of the five previous rounds he has faced a completely different opponent. Now he is standing two wins from consecutive major titles. Credit Tsitsipas for showing heart and determination in his round of 16 comeback win against Fritz. Despite being outplayed, he found a way to advance. After being able to exhale, he then mowed down Sinner in routine fashion in the quarters with a clean 4-for-4 in break points won. Although this match features world No. 2 and world No. 4, the rank order scale does not do justice to the vast gap in current form between these two. Medvedev, following a long exhale of his own after going the distance and saving a match point, should win this one in an easier manner. Medvedev in 4: 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-5.