The trio has accounted for 13 of the last 15 Major titles, 50 of the last 58. Indeed since 2005, only four men have added their names to the roster of champions: Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic.
But at this year’s US Open, Murray and del Potro are missing—both have endured long absences following surgery—Cilic and Djokovic lost in the Round 4, and Federer fell in the quarters. That left Nadal, seeded No2, as the only former champion in contention, and it opened the door for three brand new contenders for the US title.
The oldest of the trio, Grigor Dimitrov, has made two Major semis before, but never in New York. The other two, No5 Daniil Medvedev and No24 seed Matteo Berrettini, both age 23, have never played a Major semi, nor indeed a Major quarter-final before.
But the one statistic throws into sharp relief just how long Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have ruled the roost: This is the first Major semi-final to boast three players born in the 1990s: Medvedev and Berrettini in 1996, and Dimitrov in 1991.
Indeed it is possible for the two 23-year-olds to contest the title itself, but there is no getting away from the fact that Nadal is the favourite, and not simply because he is ranked No2.
He made the final of the Australian Open—losing to Djokovic—and won both the Rome Masters and French Open—beating Federer and Djokovic. He made the semis at Wimbledon—it took Federer to stop him—and won the Montreal Masters—knocking out fellow US semi-finalist Medvedev.
The Spaniard is now into his third consecutive US semi-final—and he won in 2017—and his 33rd Major semi overall. And should he win the title, he will close the gap on Federer’s record 20 Majors to just one. He could also regain the No1 ranking from Djokovic by the end of the year.
Put simply, Nadal is not simply as good as ever but continues to add new twists to his game—a bigger and faster serve, a greater willingness to come to the net, a determination to be offensive and take the initiative. These changes, allied to one walkover during the draw last week, means Nadal has spent less time on court than any of the remaining three challengers.
When he takes on Berrettini, he will have notched up 45 match-wins this year—second only to Medvedev’s 49—and in the knowledge that the young Italian needed almost four hours to win his quarter-final match over Gael Monfils.
However, the three men from Generation 90 have plenty to be confident about, despite their very contrasting routes into New York.
Medvedev five career titles, two won this year
Dimitrov has eight titles but none since winning the ATP Finals in 2017
· Medvedev has won more matches this year than anyone on the ATP tour—he is going for his 50th against Dimitrov.
· Medvedev has been the form player of the US Open Series, with finals in Washington and Montreal, and the title in Cincinnati, winning 19 of his last 21 matches.
· Medvedev’s North American run has ensured his qualification for the ATP Finals for the first time.
· Medvedev is the first Russian to reach a Major semi-final since Mikhail Youzhny at the 2010 US Open. The last Russian to reach and win the US Open was Marat Safin in 2000.
· Dimitrov entered the US Open with a 1-7 record in his last eight matches, after an injury blighted year. He withdrew from Rotterdam, Acapulco, Indian Wells and ’s-Hertogenbosch due to shoulder injury.
· Dimitrov’s No78 ranking is his lowest since June 2012, and makes him the lowest-ranked Major semi-finalist since 2008 and lowest-ranked US Open semi-finalist since Jimmy Connors in 1991. He could become the lowest-ranked US Open finalist since the ATP rankings began in 1973.
· Dimitrov is into his first semi-final since Monte Carlo in 2018.
Nadal has 83 titles, three won this year, 18 of them Majors
Berrettini has three titles, two won this year
· Berrettini is only the fourth Italian man to reach a Major semi-final in the Open Era and the first at the US Open since 1977.
· Berrettini is the youngest Major semi-finalist since Djokovic at the 2010 US Open.
· Berrettini has spent 15 hours 23 minutes on court in five matches at the US Open, while Nadal has played four matches totalling nine hours 43 minutes.
· Nadal reached 60 wins at the US Open this week, making 60+ wins at six tournaments (Roland Garros, Monte-Carlo 71, Australian Open, Rome, Barcelona).
· Nadal is the only Big Three member in a Major semi for the fifth time, and on the previous four occasions he went on to win the title.
· Nadal has 18 Major titles from 26 finals, trailing only Federer’s 20 titles and 31 finals.
Nadal will remain No2 irrespective of his results in New York.
Medvedev will reach a career-high No4 from a ranking of 13 at Wimbledon.
Berrettini can break into the top 10 by reaching the final, having begun the US Open ranked 25.
Dimitrov, from 78, is up to 25, and will be well inside the top 20 if he reaches the final. He could reach the top 10 with victory.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
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