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Medvedev can be spoiler as Nadal aims for 21st Slam

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Rafael Nadal is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam crown in today’s (4.30pm Brunei time) Australian Open final but Daniil Medvedev is once again ready to act as the spoiler.

The Russian world number two upset Novak Djokovic in last year’s US Open final to prevent the Serbian’s calendar Grand Slam bid and scuppered his attempt to move ahead of Nadal and Roger Federer on the all-time list of men’s major winners.

Apart from the 21st major title, Nadal is also bidding to become only the fourth man to win each of the four Grand Slams twice.

At 35, he will be the third oldest man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title, behind Ken Rosewall and Federer.

“For me at the end it’s about more than all these statistics, it’s about being in the final of the Australian Open one more time. That means a lot to me,” Nadal said.

Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his Australian Open semifinal match against Matteo Berrettini. PHOTO: AP

“To me it’s more important to be in the final and fight to win another Australian Open than the rest of the statistics for the history of the sport.

“I am facing my most difficult rival of the whole tournament in the final.”

The quirky Russian is relishing the chance to block Nadal getting to 21 majors ahead of his “Big Three” rivals, as he did with Djokovic four months ago.

“It’s a great rivalry. I’m happy to have the chance to try to stop one more time somebody from making history,” Medvedev said after reaching his second straight Australian Open final.

He lost to Djokovic last year. “I’m just trying to focus on doing my job. Of course, I’m not lying, I know what’s happening, I know what Rafa is going for. I knew what Novak was going for.”

While much of the sentimental interest is in Nadal’s remarkable comeback from last year’s injury-ravaged season to reach his sixth Australian final and 29 overall in Grand Slams, Medvedev is still standing after a turbulent tournament.

He had to negotiate the explosive Australian Nick Kyrgios and a partisan home crowd, come through two long sapping battles in the heat with Maxime Cressy and Felix Auger-Aliassime before overcoming frosty rival Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-final.

Each time the 25-year-old Russian has found a solution in his 17 and a half hours on court. He now has one more problem to solve in Nadal.

“I think it’s gonna be a great battle, probably a physical match. Rafa likes to drag people into long rallies. I like it too,” he said. “Rafa, we know that from the first till the last point he’s gonna fight his best, and that’s what I’m gonna try to do also.”

Nadal leads Medvedev 3-1, with the Russian losing to the Spanish leftie in his first major final at the 2019 US Open over five sets.

“Now I have the chance to play him a second time. First one was a close one, an epic one,” Medvedev said.

“I’m gonna try to prepare well, and need to show my best, because that’s what I took out of the three finals that I had before, that you have to do better than 100 per cent to win.”

It has been an extraordinary effort from Nadal just to get to the final of another Slam.

He is having to modify his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that ended his 2021 season last August.