NEW YORK — Daniil Medvedev first made a name for himself at the U.S. Open by earning the wrath of spectators. Now he’s gaining everyone’s respect as he heads to his first Grand Slam final.
The No. 5-seeded Russian has gone from trolling angry crowds at Flushing Meadows to playing for the title after beating unseeded Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals Friday under Arthur Ashe Stadium’s closed retractable roof.
During his on-court interview, Medvedev referenced his “tournament of controversies,” which included accumulating $19,000 in fines and antagonizing booing fans last week, saying he knew it was “not going to be easy with the public.”
Medvedev’s tennis was a bit scratchy Friday, and he barely avoided dropping the opening set, but he did just enough with his mostly defensive style to get past Dimitrov, who had eliminated Roger Federer in a five-set quarterfinal.
In Sunday’s final, Medvedev will face either 18-time major champion Rafael Nadal or Matteo Berrettini, a 23-year-old from Italy who is seeded 24th.
Medvedev, 23, said he planned to watch that second semifinal, with “popcorn, in front of TV.”
Nadal has been gaining on Federer in the Grand Slam title standings: A fourth championship at the U.S. Open will also move him within one of Federer’s record total in the overall standings.
Like Medvedev, Berrettini is trying to make his debut in a major final.
The 6-foot-6 Medvedev hadn’t even been past the fourth round at a Slam until this one. He’s been the tour’s top player over the recent hard-court circuit, though, reaching three other finals on the surface. Medvedev has won 20 of his last 22 matches and leads the tour with 50 victories in 2019.
He drew all sorts of attention during Week 1 at the U.S. Open. In his third-round victory, fans got on him for angrily snatching and tossing away a towel from a ballperson, then for holding up his middle finger against the side of his face. When they let him hear it at the end of the match, jeering loudly, he basked in it, asking for more noise and sarcastically thanking them. There was a similar display after his next win, too.
On Friday, the stands seemed to have more people pulling for Dimitrov than Medvedev, but once again, that didn’t matter.
At No. 78, Dimitrov was heading in the opposite direction, losing seven of his last eight matches before getting to New York. That’s why a player once ranked as high as No. 3 was down to No. 78, making him the lowest semifinalist at the U.S. Open since 1991, when Jimmy Connors – who was in the stands Friday – was out of the top 150.
Dimitrov sure should have gone up a set early.
He was a point away while leading 6-5 as Medvedev served. But Medvedev played aggressively there, using a big forehand to get to the net and take that point, then turned to his guest box and barked something. The ensuing tiebreaker was filled with errors by both, closing with a forehand into the net by Dimitrov and another that he sailed long.
Truth be told, neither was all that elegant or excellent in that first set.
Yet Medvedev managed to take it, even though Dimitrov dominated pretty much every statistical category. Dimitrov won more points, 43-41. He compiled twice as many total winners, 14-7. He made fewer unforced errors, 18-15.
The second set came down to the last game, when Dimitrov’s inconsistency was again on display. After one spectacular point, which drew a standing ovation, he paused to take a look at a replay on the overhead videoboard. Soon after that, though, he hit a mediocre approach shot that allowed Medvedev to strike a down-the-line backhand passing winner for set point. Dimitrov followed up with a backhand into the net and hung his head.
That made it a two-set lead for Medvedev, a deficit Dimitrov had faced 19 previous times at majors and never overcome. He wasn’t going to on this day, either.