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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday January 27, 2022

 
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Rafael Nadal will bid for his 21st major title this weekend, starting with a semifinal clash with Italy's Matteo Berrettini.

Photo Source: Getty

And then there were four – it’s men’s semifinals time this weekend in Melbourne and there's a whole lot at stake. For starters, King of Clay Rafael Nadal is hoping to lock down his second Australian Open title and his 21st major title, which would put him on top of the all-time men’s singles Grand Slam titles list.

Tennis Express

Nadal will square off with Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, while the highest-ranked player remaining in the draw, World No.2 Daniil Medvedev, will lock horns with Stefanos Tsitsipas in the bottom half semifinal.

Let’s have a look inside the matchups:

Nadal v Berrettini: Head to Head – Nadal leads 1-0

The pair have met only once, with Nadal notching a 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-1 victory over Berrettini in the 2019 US Open semifinals, a match that saw Nadal earn 16 break points and convert four. If Nadal can come anywhere close to those numbers on Friday night in Melbourne, he should be good to go, but Berrettini has gained a lot of valuable experience over the last ten Grand Slams and the Italian is better than ever at locking down his serve in important moments.

Berrettini is saying all the right things ahead of the pair's second tilt: The Italian believes, because of the experience he has gained over the last two years, that this is a winnable contest for him. That alone is a change from where he was against the best players in the world at the Slams for the last few seasons.

“Great opportunity again for me,” the 25-year-old Italian said. “After two years and a half playing this guy that doesn't need anything more, from my words, for all I said, I watch him so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him, and playing with him in Rod Laver in semifinals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid.

“So I said this, but now I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It's gonna be a really tough one. But I'm in the semis in a slam for the third time, like you guys said, so it means that this is my level and I want to get further.”


Both players completed five-set quarterfinals on Tuesday night, but two day's rest should be ample time to leave both players fresh. Fatigue shouldn’t be a massive factor in the match, but Berrettini is ten years younger, so what he may lack in experience and pedigree compared to the 20-time major champion could be made up for with some youthful energy.

It’s a bit surprising that Berrettini has lost six sets already through five rounds – one against Brandon Nakashima in round one, one against Stefan Kozlov in round two, two against Carlols Alcaraz in round three and two against Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals. He may be wearing a bit of fatigue when he faces Nadal and that could help the Spaniard turn the screws.

Tactically speaking, Nadal will attempt to hammer in on Berrettini’s backhand (his week but getting stronger link) as much as he can, both on serve and return, while Berrettini will look to assert himself with his booming serve and world-class forehand to get Nadal on the back foot and on the run.

At the moment it's difficult to ascertain which player is in better form. Berrettini has been tested and come through, but he has not played well enough to dominate. Nadal didn't face many stiff challenges in week one, and when he met one in week two, he was very shaky against Denis Shapovalov in the semifinals. Is he ready to hit another level in the semis? It's hard to tell...

Nadal knows that Berrettini is a player on the rise and that he’ll need to be at his best to earn the victory.

“Matteo, he's one of the best players of the world since a while already, no? He's very solid. Yeah, no, no, I need to play my 100 percent and my highest level if I want to keep having chances to fight, to be competitive, and to try to be in the final.”

Medvedev v Tsitsipas

Could there have been a better advertisement for what Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas bring to the sport than their quarterfinal triumphs on Tuesday in Melbourne? Tsitsipas was absolutely flawless as he marched past No.11-seeded Jannik Sinner. So good, in fact, that many believe he has an excellent shot to take out Medvedev, who was pushed to five sets by Felix Auger-Aliassime in the men’s match of the tournament on Tuesday.

Medvedev rallied from two sets down, producing the tournament’s first such comeback, and showed the kind of determination and poise under pressure that is a rare and precious commodity. How the Russian handled the adversity and rallied back to top the Canadian was a sight to behold, and it demonstrated the strength of character that he possesses as a competitor, and his confidence.


Now the Russian will have to recover and get back to full energy to face Tsitsipas. He may own a 6-2 lifetime edge against Tsitsipas but the Greek’s form against Sinner points to a much closer matchup than the pair conducted last year in the semifinals, with Medvedev rummaging past Tsitsipas in straight sets before falling to Djokovic in the final.

Medvedev didn’t seem quite sure how he was going to feel ahead of Friday’s clash with Tsitsipas, but he’ll cross that bridge when he arrives at it (very much his style).

“I never had this experience,” he said. “I played some long matches but never like four hours and never won it to be able to play in two days. It's far by midnight now. I'm going to have to see.

“Again, you know, if we look at the best, they were able to do it somehow. I don't know how. But they were able to do it. So if I want to be a part of this group, even if I'm really far right now, I want to try to make it happen. I'm going to try to recover as well as possible, to be ready to play against Stefanos, because he's a great player. I need to be at my best to beat him.”

No matter how Medvedev turns up, the cagey Russian will be sure not to underestimate Tsitsipas, who won their last meeting, at Roland-Garros, last year.

The Greek, meanwhile, just wants to keep it rolling. Having recovered nicely from elbow surgery two months ago, it feels like he is popping the ball as good as he ever has.

“I feel like I'm in the zone,” he said. “I have no plans of getting out of it. It's part of my game.”

 

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