09 Sep Yesterday’s epic in New York
First half (two and a half sets)
It all started with Rafa Nadal’s tactical lesson on how to play against counterpunchers. Variety, variety, variety, and a combination of passive and aggressive game. “Passive” play with no angles from Nadal, was forcing Medvedev to hit bigger than he normally does, and he felt he had to hit a winner to win a point, which takes more than usual, against a “king of defense”. And the result was: energy spending and unforced errors. Medvedev doesn’t like to hit winners every point, especially not with his forehand, and he is certainly not used to it. Rafa was also using backhand slice to Medvedev’s backhand, taking the pace out of his long arms, which caused couple of extra unforced errors. With a possibility in his mind that Medvedev will eventually get used to this pace and start making those winners, Rafa was constantly switching to a very aggressive play. That included his trade mark game; one – two punch (serve + forehand) and on my surprise (I guess not only me), he played serve and volley more than I’ve ever seen him, and he won 17 out of 20 points. Clear pattern was wide serve on add side and closing the net. At the first half of the match every important point on his serve, Rafa played that pattern, and Medvedev just didn’t have the answer. I have to say that the angle of Rafa’s wide serve was outstanding last night.
Second half (two and a half sets)
At the moment when everybody thought that this will be a good, but ordinary final, Medvedev said no, I’m not going out just like this, and made a crucial break back in the sixth game of the third set. Unique New York tennis crowd recognized the moment and the match suddenly turned into a street fight.
Well, not only that, tactics had its part too. Medvedev applied his plan B and started to play smarter, using his serve and volley pattern where he won 22 points out of 29 attempts, and most of it happened in the second half of the match, which indicates that he did serve and volley at least twice per game. Medvedev also started to play patient points, waiting to hurt Rafa from counter angles, he stopped overhitting and started hitting hard in a more rational fashion. But that’s just one part of the scenario that was happening last night on Arthur Ashe stadium, and it would have not been even close to enough to turn this match into an epic battle, without the mental and physical toughness that Daniil Medvedev showed yesterday on that centre court. I have never seen anybody really outlasts Rafa Nadal. I saw him being outplayed by Roger and Novak, but that’s a different story. Last night was mainly about physical and mental resilience, and pure guts, that this young man from Russia, somehow found within his skinny body, and genius mind. Match started to change, and when Medvedev won the first game of the fifth set, the momentum was all on his side. Just in the moment when I thought that Daniil Medvedev is really going to do it, that he is going to outlast and beat Rafa Nadal with his own greatest weapon, on the biggest stage in tennis, Rafa somehow found another gear, another hidden tank of energy, and played some of the toughest points I have ever seen him play. With the help from the crowd that was going absolutely wild, there were moments that looked like a transcendent experience for both players. They really went over the top by many standards.
I guess this reservoir of extra strength that Rafa found last night, is something that accumulates within a person, with years and years of discipline, dedication and hard work, waiting to be used in the toughest moments. It reminded me of a story in which a mother gives her daughter a key to a special door that opens a place that will save her from any problem or evil she might be facing in this world. But the thing is, that the door can be opened only once in a lifetime. Mother told her to better make sure she picks the right problem, the biggest problem, to use that key, because you don’t want to waste it on something you can handle by yourself.
Only Rafa knows if he used that key yesterday evening in New York. At some moments it certainly looked like he did, but we will never know. Anyway, I hope he saved it though, because he is on the mission that is not finished yet, and looking into the future, with big three still at the very top of the game, and with new warriors like Daniil Medvedev growing and learning from each match, Rafa might need it even more very soon.