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Daniil Medvedev vs. Rafael Nadal preview: More than just an Acapulco final spot at stake for impending No. 1
Earning some revenge against Rafa in this rematch of the Australian Open final would be the perfect statement victory for the Russian on his way to the top.
Published Feb 25, 2022
WATCH: Daniil Medvedev defeats Yoshihito Nishioka to set up a rematch with Rafael Nadal in the 2022 Acapulco semifinals.
Daniil Medvedev arrived in Acapulco this week with a high likelihood of clinching the world No. 1 ranking, and it was very much deserved. After years of impressive results—including a maiden Grand Slam victory at the US Open and two appearances in the Australian Open final—the Russian had imposed his unorthodox game and made himself the biggest challenger to the Big Three’s long-held hegemony.
In the end, the transfer of power came about somewhat anticlimactically. Medvedev ended Novak Djokovic’s 361-week reign at the top of the rankings on Thursday, after the Serbian lost to qualifier Jiri Vesely in a match over 9,000 miles away in Dubai.
Medvedev didn’t even realize what he had achieved until congratulatory messages started to pour in.
“To be honest, Novak's match, I saw that he was losing, but I didn't know that if he loses I'm gonna become No. 1. I thought I have to do something big here,” Medvedev said after his quarterfinal win in Acapulco. "So then when I was receiving all the messages, well, I understood that, yeah OK, it's gonna happen."
This wasn't the first time Medvedev had been in a position to dethrone Djokovic atop the ATP rankings—it happened several times in 2021, although admittedly some were longshots—but, for a variety of reasons, this was the first time that his ascent felt inevitable.
With the No. 1 ranking in the bag come Monday, Medvedev now has another significant opportunity in front of him: a statement victory over Rafael Nadal, for the cherry on top of his newfound status. It's a blockbuster rematch of their epic Australian Open final earlier this year.
Medvedev trails Nadal 1-4 in their head-to-head record, but he will be eager to ensure that his rise to the top won’t be remembered as just a glitch of the rankings, or as a consequence of Djokovic’s decision to be unvaccinated against COVID-19, which kept him out of the Australian Open. He earned his way to the top, and he is arguably the player to beat on this surface at the moment.
“It’s kind of a chance to get my revenge," Medvedev said in Acapulco. "You have to learn from the best, which is him, Roger [Federer], Novak, Andy [Murray]... Always when they were losing a tough fight, they were trying to get their revenge.
"Sometimes they manage to win, sometimes not, and that's what I'm going to try to do [when] I play Rafa."
Nadal won’t be able to take too much comfort from his head-to-head lead over Medvedev, as their last four matches have gone down to the wire—including two five-set battles in Grand Slam finals. Most recently, the Spaniard had to rally from two sets to love in the Australian Open final to win 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, and claim a record-breaking 21st major crown. But he will have momentum on his side: Nadal is seeking his third title of the young year in Acapulco, after a 13-0 start to the season.
Both players have yet to drop a set in Acapulco, with Medvedev cruising past Benoit Paire, Pablo Andujar and Yoshihito Nishioka on his way to the semifinals. Nadal has been in even more dominant form against a trio of American opponents: Denis Kudla, Stefan Kozlov and Tommy Paul. Two of the six sets Nadal has won have been 6-0 shutouts.
This will be far and away the biggest test for Medvedev and Nadal since their Australian Open clash less than a month ago.
"Everybody knows how difficult it is to play against Daniil," Nadal said after his quarterfinal win. "I know I have to play at my highest level if I want to have any chance, and that's what I'm going to try. I have to play my game."
It’s kind of a chance to get my revenge ... Sometimes they manage to win, sometimes not, and that's what I'm going to try to do [when] I play Rafa. Daniil Medvedev
Nadal is seeking his fourth Acapulco title, after winning here twice when it was a clay-court event and in 2020 on hard courts. The former champion is loved in Latin America, and he can expect to have the crowd’s full support against Medvedev—a factor that can’t be understated, as we’ve seen during their Melbourne match.
No matter what happens in this ATP 500 semifinal, Medvedev will rise to world No. 1 on Monday, Nadal will still be the men’s all-time Grand Slam leader, and fans will still be left to wonder when they’ll next see Djokovic on court. But for Medvedev, a bit of revenge could taste even sweeter if he can take down Nadal before all is said and done.
Either No. 6 seed Cameron Norrie or No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will face off earlier in the day’s first semifinal, will await the winner in the championship match.