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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 6, 2019

NEW YORK—Embracing the role of anti-hero, Daniil Medvedev continues upstaging all comers in a stirring US Open performance.

Beneath the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev masterfully dismissed Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 charging into his first Grand Slam final at the US Open with his ATP-best 50th victory of the season.

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The fifth-seeded Medvedev is the first Russian man to reach a major final since Marat Safin stopped Lleyton Hewitt to claim the 2005 Australian Open and the first Russian US Open finalist since Safin shocked Pete Sampras in the 2000 Flushing Meadows final.

"I have to tell you it sounds not bad," Medvedev told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi afterward. "I mean the tournament of controversy. Today, I felt again the first set he was much closer to win.

"I won it and completely changed the momentum of the match. I think it's the second time this tournament I played three sets and I’m just happy to be in the final."

The red-hot Medvedev continued his magical trip through the North American summer hard-court season scoring his 12th consecutive victory, powering into his fourth straight hard-court final and raising his record to 20-2 since July 30th. 

The 23-year-old Medvedev will meet either 18-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, who beat him 6-3, 6-0, in the Montreal final last month, or first-time major semifinalist Matteo Berrettini in Sunday's final. If Nadal prevails, he will be Medvedev's fourth left-handed opponent of the tournament following victories over Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Feliciano Lopez and Dominik Koepfer. 

"Talking about Rafa, it's tough to find words," Medvedev said. "So many players and so many people found them before me. He's one of the greatest champions in the history of our sport. He's just a machine, a beast on the court.

"The energy he's showing is just amazing. To play him in your first Grand Slam final should be, I want to say, a funny thing. It's not going to be a funny thing, but it's going to be an amazing thing to live."

Playing just his 12th Grand Slam, the lanky, long-limed Medvedev served with more authority, played cleaner tennis, converted five of nine break-point chances and beat the Bulgarian in prolonged baseline exchanges. In the process, Medvedev is starting to win the notoriously tough New York crowd over.

After fingering fans following his controversial third-round win over Queen's Club champion Feliciano Lopez, Medvedev made amends with fans bluntly stating "I am an idiot" in his post-match pressers. 

The quirky Medvedev's candor, competitiveness and drive have helped him repair the relationship with Arthur Ashe Stadium fans, who were cheering his post-match comments today.

"I will not say that I'm a kind person or a good person," Medvedev said. "I can only say I'm a really calm person in life. I actually have no idea why the demons go out when I play tennis. Especially when I was a junior, I had a lot of problems with my attitude. I was not getting defaulted, but I was getting to have a game penalty was easy.

"I was working hard because every time I do something wrong on the court, I'm sitting with myself, I'm not like this in normal life. Why does it happen? I don't want it to happen like this. So I have been working a lot on it, and I have improved a lot."

The first Russian man to contest a Grand Slam final since Mikhail Youzhny at the US Open nine years ago, Medvedev made a fast start. Dimitrov had difficulty deciphering the direction of the Russian's drives. 

"I think one of the strengths is sometimes you don't know where he serves, first or second serve," Dimitrov said. "That sometimes can be misleading at times like big points. I think he just fights right. That's it.

"He puts every ball in the court. Somehow he gets to the balls. Doesn't give you enough free points. I think that's the major thing that I see right now."

Former champions Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova and ex New York City mayors Michael Bloomberg and David Dinkins were among the notable names in the house.

For the second straight match, Dimitrov was skittish as the start shanking a couple of shots in donating a love break. Despite two double faults and an error, Medvedev still confirmed the break for 2-0.

Two games later, the Bulgarian began finding sharper angles. Dragging Medvedev forward, Dimitrov fired a forehand pass breaking back to level after four games.

Serving to force a tiebreak, the Cincinnati champion began to wobble. Slapping a his signature shot—the backhand down the line—wide Medvedev faced a set point.

The Russian stared down the stress roping a forehand and moving forward to save it. A 126 mph ace down the T helped Medvedev hold despite being hit with his third foot fault call of the set.

Outplayed for stretches of the opening set, Medvedev played more solid tennis in the tie break, while Dimitrov blinked.

A tight Dimitrov spun a 69 mph second serve into net to fall behind 3-5. Deadlocked at 5-all, Dimitrov spread the court with a flurry of forehands, drew the midcourt ball he desired but decelerated on a forehand into net ending a 22-shot rally with misery.

On his first set point, Medvedev jammed a backhand into the Bulgarian’s hip coaxing a floating error. Dimitrov doubled Medvedev in winners—14 to 7—while the fifth seed served just 40 percent yet Medvedev still salvaged the 61-minute opener largely because he was calmer at crunch time and dropped back well behind the baseline forcing Dimitrov to create offense.

The lowest-ranked man to reach the US Open semifinals since a 174th-ranked Jimmy Connors captivated New York fans with his inspired run to the 1991 final four, Dimitrov knew losing the first set was a major missed opportunity.

"I just didn't play good enough on those key points, especially I think the set point in the first set, I knew what he's going to do," Dimitrov said. "He came up with the goods. Second set, again, I was not able to get free points on my serve, or on his for that matter. He used the court pretty well."

The pair traded breaks to start the second set.

Even when Dimitrov shortened his slice backhand to draw Medvedev in or elicit a short ball, he wasn’t always proactive exploiting the opportunity. Moving forward, Dimitrov paid the price as Medvedev stung a backhand pass scoring his third break for 3-1.

The Russian was poised to run away with the set when Dimitrov broke back and followed with a flying smash in an emphatic exclamation point that helped him hold to level after six games.

A match-tough Medvedev managed critical moments calmly in this match.

Testing Dimitrov’s legs and lungs in extended exchanges during a grueling 10th game, Medvedev refused to miss and forced Dimitrov to flirt with the lines. When the Bulgarian’s backhand collided with the top of the tape, the fifth-seeded Russian seized a two-set lead.

A calm Medvedev made each point a prolonged effort for Dimitrov, who was coming off a five-set upset of Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Denying Dimitrov access to angles, Medvedev drew a running forehand error breaking for a 3-1 third-set lead.

By then, Medvedev was well on his way to scripting a smooth climax.

It was the third major semifinal setback for Dimitrov, who departed the draw declaring Medvedev has "a major shot" of taking the title. 

"Anything's possible," Dimitrov said. "You get the chance to be in the final, so you got to leave everything out there. I mean, of course, if he keeps going the same way, plays the same, I think absolutely he's got a major shot."

The 78th-ranked Dimitrov did not blink denying a pair of match points forcing Medvedev to serve for the final at 5-3.

On his third match point, Medvedev slid a serve out wide to seal his spot in his ATP-best seventh final of the season joining Hall of Famers Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov as the third Russian man to advance to a major final.


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