The U.S. Open men’s semifinals are set for Friday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed from Spain, takes on No. 24 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, while fifth-seedeed Russian Daniil Medvedev will square off against unseeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. The winners will meet in Sunday afternoon’s singles final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Here’s amNewYork’s unofficial ranking of the semifinalists, beginning with the favorite to win the year’s final Grand Slam.
The Spaniard’s quarterfinal opponent, No. 20 seed Diego Schwartzman, called him a “lion in the jungle” at the post-match news conference. Others might argue the 18-time major champion is more like a G.O.A.T. Regardless of whether he’s the greatest tennis player of all time, Nadal is the last of the Big Three left in the tournament after Novak Djovokic retired in the round of 16 and Roger Federer bowed out in the quarters. If Nadal adds another U.S. Open title, it would mark the fourth straight year in which no player other than these three men has won a Grand Slam singles crown.
The King of the Clay can finish off his resurgent hardcourt summer as the King of Queens. It’s been a breezy route to the semifinals for the 33-year-old. He won three matches in straight sets, had a walkover in the second round, and dispatched former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in four sets in the round of 16.
Next, Nadal faces 23-year-old Berrettini for the first time in his career. Expect the well-rested "lion," who’s appeared in all four Grand Slam semifinals in 2019, to pounce on his young prey.
Entering the U.S. Open, Dimitrov’s career appeared to be in freefall. In 2017, he was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world. Injuries contributed to him plummeting to No. 78 with a losing record for the 2019 season, along with poor showings in the Grand Slams and Masters tournaments. A player who once had dreams of challenging the Big Three found himself inside a nightmare.
But Dimitrov has woken up in New York. The 28-year-old, nicknamed “Baby Fed” for playing a similar style game as the Swiss icon, rose to the occasion in his first U.S. Open quarterfinal appearance, upsetting a hobbled Federer, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Dimitrov has split his two head-to-head matchups with semifinals opponent Medvedev. If he can survive the upstart Russian, Dimitrov will have an incredibly tough hill to climb if he meets Nadal on Sunday for the title; the Bulgarian is 1-12 in his career against the legend.
The slight advantage in the semis goes to Dimitrov, but only because injury concerns now swirl around Medvedev. The lanky Russian played through pain after suffering a leg injury in the first set of his four-set quarterfinal victory Tuesday over former U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka.
Medvedev’s star seems to shine brightest when he’s playing the villain role. His two weeks at the U.S. Open have included code violations, antagonizing the crowd in a postgame interview and the Arthur Ashe faithful booing the 23-year-old while cheering his double faults against Wawrinka.
Theatrics aside, Medvedev is playing the best tennis of his life. He jumped into the Top 5 in the rankings and earned a spot in the World Tour Finals with a sterling record this summer. But Medvedev’s breakout season has come at the cost of heavy mileage on his body; he’s played more tennis matches than anyone on tour this summer.
“I’m sure that there is a risk for my body,” he said after defeating Wawrinka. “I’m going to adapt my calendar after this tournament, but hopefully my body will hold this.”
Berrettini outlasted No. 13 seed Gael Monfils in a fifth-set tiebreak in a match equals parts sloppy and thrilling to reach the semifinals. He showed tremendous composure after squandering four match points to Monfils before eventually prevailing. The victory marked the first time an Italian player has reached the U.S. Open men’s semis since Corrado Barazzutti in 1977.
To add a little more New York flavor to the proceedings, after the match Berrettini credited East Village pasta joint Via Della Pace as his lucky charm. One of the restaurant’s owners, Giovanni Bartocci, has even been in Berrettini’s box loudly supporting his countryman.
It’ll take more than a pregame bowl of rigatoni alla carbonara for the young underdog to overcome the vastly more experienced Nadal. In a matchup of heavy hitters, Berrettini certainly has enough weapons in his arsenal to trade blows with the top remaining seed. He will have to get his nerves out of the way early and avoid piling up double faults to have a chance at his first berth in a Grand Slam final.