New York, Sept 5 (AFP/APP):Rafael Nadal, called a “lion” by his latest victim and “the greatest fighter ever” by his next opponent, stalks his 19th Grand Slam title in Friday’s US Open semi-finals.
The 33-year-old Spaniard, forced to retire from last year’s semi-finals with knee pain, is feeling healthy now and ready to pounce upon Italy’s 24th-seeded Matteo Berrettini.
“He’s serving huge, big forehands, moving well, and big confidence because he’s having a great year, so let’s see. I need to play my best,” Nadal said of his first-time foe.
“Looks relaxed, looks he’s ready to fight for important things.”
At stake is a berth in Sunday’s final at Arthur Ashe Stadium against a first-time Grand Slam finalist — the winner between Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev and Bulgaria’s 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, who upset 20-time Slam champion Roger Federer in a five-set quarter-final thriller.
“I saw some matches of him here. He was playing unbelievable,” Medvedev said. “We all know what he’s capable of when he’s playing like he can.”
The same is true about Nadal, who dispatched Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals.
“Like a lion in the middle of the jungle,” Schwartzman said of Nadal. “He’s big. He’s a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments every single time.”
Berrettini, at 23 a decade younger than Nadal, heaped on greater praise.
“I think he’s the greatest fighter ever in this sport,” the Italian said. “It’s unbelievable (what) he’s doing. I admire him, the way he is on the court, like his attitude is something I think it’s close to perfection.”
Nadal, who has dropped only one set in four matches and a walkover, warns his mind and body are as dangerous as his heart and spirit.
“I had stable character during all my life, all my career. I mean, mentally focused, mentally relaxed and mentally always ready to respect every opponent, to play every point, to play every game, to play every set and every match until the end. So that’s one of the keys of the success,” Nadal said.
“But honestly, is not everything. I think my success is not only because of the spirit of fight. There is lot of things after this.”
Berrettini, never better than the last-16 in seven prior Slam starts, recalled seeing Nadal on television as a child.
“It was unbelievable,” Berrettini said. “I saw, like, 100 of his matches. Who in this tour doesn’t know Rafa? It’s going to be tough, for sure, against him.”
Nadal is playing a personal-best seventh consecutive Slam semi-final, having won his 12th French Open title in June. He lost to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final and to Federer in the Wimbledon semis.
– Sore quad nags Medvedev –
Medvedev was hindered by a sore left quadriceps muscle in a quarter-final win over three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka but has two rest days before facing Dimitrov.
The Russian has been busy the past month, winning the Cincinnati title and reaching the finals at Washington and Montreal, where he fell to Nadal in the final.
“That’s what I’ve been working for all my life,” Medvedev said. “That’s where I’ve been going step by step. But I am still really surprised with the way this last four weeks have been going. I’ve achieved some of what I’ve dreamed.”
Medvedev made his deepest Slam run to the Australia last-16 then bettered that in New York, although an obscene gesture and unsportsmanlike conduct made him a target of boos from fans in his past three matches.
Medvedev called himself “an idiot” for taunts to fans saying he drew inspiration from their jeers and vowed to show his “brighter side” in future matches.
“He has been having a great summer, a lot of confidence building up, winning Cincinnati, being already here. A lot of good matches, a lot behind him really,” Dimitrov said.
“Clearly he’s doing something right. It’s not going to be an easy match.”
Medvedev split two 2017 meetings with Dimitrov, the Bulgarian winning at Queen’s and Medvedev responding a month later in Washington.
Dimitrov has battled back from an early season shoulder injury to match his best Slam runs from Wimbledon in 2014 and Australia in 2017.