Nadal seeks 19th Slam title against Medvedev at US Open

New York: Rafael Nadal will play for his 19th Grand Slam title, one shy of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record, after battling past Italy’s Matteo Berrettini on Friday and into his fifth US Open final.

The 33-year-old Spaniard dispatched Berrettini 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, 6-1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach a Sunday showdown against Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, who ousted Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-3.

“Very happy to be back into the final of the US Open,” Nadal said. “It means a lot to be back where I am today after some tough moments at the beginning of the season.”

Nadal, who shook off an early season right hip injury to win a 12th French Open title, seeks his fourth US Open crown — one short of the Open-era record of five shared by Federer, Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors — to reach the brink of Federer’s mark.

“It’s just another chance on Sunday,” Nadal said. “I want to enjoy a day off, have a good practice and Sunday is the day to play my best.”

Nadal, into his 27th Grand Slam final, beat Medvedev in last month’s Montreal final in their only prior meeting. But the world number two skipped Cincinnati, where Medvedev was champion the following week.

“He’s one of the more solid players on tour,” Nadal said of Medvedev. “He’s making steps forward every single week.

“I need to be playing at my best.”

Medvedev, in his first Grand Slam final at 23, has gone 20-2 in the past six weeks with runner-up efforts in Washington and Canada, a title in Cincinnati and a breakthrough US Open run.

“I’m just happy to be in the final,” Medvedev said. “When I was going to USA, I didn’t know it was going to be this good. So I have to say I love USA.”

Medvedev is the first Russian in a men’s Grand Slam final since Marat Safin won the 2005 Australian Open title and the first Russian to reach the US Open final since Safin won the 2000 crown.

Nadal has dropped only one set at the Open but was severely tested by 24th seed Berrettini, the first Italian man in the US Open semi-finals since Corrado Barazzutti in 1977.

Berrettini denied Nadal on six break points in the first set, jumped ahead 4-0 in the tie-break and seized two set points at 6-4 as the Ashe crowd roared with delight.

“Winning the first set would have been big,” Berrettini said. “It’s tough to go a set down with him after more than an hour. I was playing really good.”

But the Italian netted two backhand volleys, a baseline backhand and then hit a forehand long to hand Nadal the set.

“I was lucky to win that first set,” Nadal said. “First set had been a little bit frustrating. You don’t want to be in a tie-breaker against a player like Matteo after you have missed all those opportunities.”

Nadal, who never faced a break point, took his first break for a 4-3 lead in the second set, held twice to take the set, then rolled to victory in two hours, 35 minutes.

“I survived at the moment and finally I had the break in the second set and the match changed,” Nadal said. “I played calm more and super aggressive.”

US Open fans gave solid applause to Medvedev after earlier-round boos for flashing an obscene gesture and taunts saying he thrived on their jeers for energy to win. He later apologized.

Medvedev took the first-set tie-break after Dimitrov netted a forehand and sent another long on the last two points.

“The confidence means a lot in this case because I do think he was better player in first set. I do think I was kind of lucky to win it,” Medvedev said. “Then the momentum changed completely.”

Dimitrov netted a backhand to surrender a break and the second set in the 10th game. Medvedev broke for a 3-1 lead in the third set and held to the finish.

“There’s something strong that makes me win these crazy sets and crazy matches, which maybe two months ago I would have lost,” said Medvedev.

Dimitrov, ranked 78th, would have been the lowest-rated US Open men’s finalist since the rankings began in 1973.

“Good match overall. I think it was just a few points here and there,” Dimitrov said. “It was a good level.”