On Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), top-seeded Daniil Medvedev will take on Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final. If Nadal wins, he will break the Grand Slam record that he, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer all currently hold, tied with 20 titles each.
What does Nadal need to do to beat Medvedev?
Bill Connelly: In three wins over Medvedev, Nadal has won 55% of his second-serve points. He’s won 58% in this tournament. In his lone loss to Medvedev, however — a three-setter indoors in London in 2020 — he won only 37% of those points. Nadal has brought some extra service pop to the table during this fortnight, and if he can fend Medvedev off in this regard, he’ll give himself an excellent shot at his first Australian Open title in 13 years.
Brad Gilbert: Nadal needs a high percentage of aggressive serving and to get serve-plus-one points, to use his forehand from center court and control the rallies, to take some cuts on second serve returns, and also, it’s important he try to vary his pace of shots to Medvedev.
Luke Jensen: Medvedev vs. Nadal is the perfect matchup to end the happy Slam that started out not so happy with the Djoker drama. In 2019, Federer had match points against Djokovic at Wimbledon to reach 21 and fell short. In 2021, Djokovic was one win away in the US Open final and didn’t have enough to beat Medvedev. So now Nadal has his shot against Medvedev, whom he beat in the 2019 US Open final.
Like in that 2019 matchup, it will take all of Rafael’s tactical intelligence to win. In that 2019 US Open final that went five sets to put down first-time major finalist Medvedev, Nadal was running out of fuel and turned to timely serve-and-volley plays to keep the points short to pull out the win. Look for Nadal to use his slice backhands to keep the ball low and short to draw Medvedev off his comfortable baseline position. This is a difficult matchup for Nadal because Medvedev is now a US Open — and extremely confident — major winner. Expect Nadal to move forward in the court more to take the battle to Medvedev and put the Russian on the defensive.
Aishwarya Kumar: Win the first two sets. If he can make Medvedev go on the defensive from the start, then he automatically has the upper hand. He needs to use his angles in his baseline game and have Medvedev chase the ball from the get-go. If Medvedev has to dig himself out of a deep two-set hole — even if he ends up winning the next two sets, as he did at the 2019 US Open final — it will require a lot for him to win three straight sets against Nadal. The 20-time Grand Slam champion has lost only two matches in his entire Grand Slam career after winning the first two sets.
D’Arcy Maine: Nadal will need to come out aggressive and with his foot on the gas from the start, and never let up. Easier said than done of course, especially for a 35-year-old coming off a serious injury, but Medvedev will seize on any weakness or moment of fatigue. Previous game plans Nadal has used, such as using the crosscourt to the backhand against Matteo Berrettini, won’t work against Medvedev, and he’s going to need to get creative and dig deep. Thankfully for Nadal, he’s been in just about every situation on the tennis court during his career; he will need to rely on that knowledge and experience, as well as his fighting spirit and will to win.
Jake Michaels: The clear advantage Nadal has in this match is experience. This is his sixth Australian Open final and 29th major final. Nadal won’t be overawed by the occasion, and he’ll know that for him to win he must serve well and not let Medvedev dictate points with his backhand. Nadal’s slower pace of play is also something that could hold him in good stead, as Medvedev is the type of player who can get frustrated when the match isn’t played at a speed he’s comfortable with.
Pam Shriver: Nadal needs a big night with his serve, especially the lefty slider out wide on the ad side. He needs to fight off 80-90% of the break points he faces. He also needs to detach from tennis history and from his previous failures to win Australian Open No. 2.
Nadal needs to continue to manage his body well within points and the entire match. If it becomes a slug fest from the back of the court, it does not favor Nadal. It’s better vs. Medvedev to keep points shorter in the 5-9 rally length and don’t play a high percentage of 9+ rallies.
Matt Walsh: The Spaniard needs to prolong the points and keep Medvedev moving — whether it’s along the baseline or to and from the net. Rafa relishes a scrap, and Daniil has a tendency to lose focus throughout matches if his opponent’s play (or coaches) frustrates him. Nadal is a seasoned pro and knows how to win Grand Slam finals, and will lean on that experience to get the better of Medvedev.
How can Medvedev beat Nadal?
Bill Connelly: Honestly? He just needs to play his game. Serve big and grind, grind, grind. It’s made him just about the best player in the world, and while Nadal is obviously one of the best grinders the world has ever produced, he’s 35 and he’s been on the court a lot in recent rounds. Nadal might need shorter, more potent points to win this one, and Medvedev doesn’t give you many of those on these courts.
Gilbert: Medvedev needs to bomb away on his first serve and take some risk second serve, use his sneaky good offense and especially the backhand down the line — and most importantly, use his genius defense.
Jensen: Medvedev proved at the 2021 US Open — beating Djokovic in convincing fashion — that he is a major force to deal with. He’s extremely consistent with a massive serve. He has become a chess master on the tennis court with his in-game tactical changes. The key match-up is Medvedev taking away the ad court Nadal lefty wide serve with his two-handed backhand. Some of the biggest points will be played in this situation and Medvedev must cut off that lefty slider before it pulls away from him. In the 2019 US Open final, Nadal was up two sets before Medvedev began to use a serve and volley attack that turned the match into a five-set classic. Expect Medvedev to use a balanced attack to counter the Nadal force of power to win the Aussie title.
Kumar: Medvedev needs to take the first set, period. He is coming in with a lot of confidence, having ended 2021 on a high with a US Open win, but he did so against a Djokovic who was cooked in the final match after several five-setters early on in the tournament. Nadal has played more or less the same number of sets as Medvedev, so unless Nadal comes down with an unforeseen injury, we can expect him to come in with a lot of energy and start aggressively. So, if Medvedev can run him across the court, and surprise him with volleys, and throw him off course in the first set, he can go into set two with confidence he earned from this match, and built on that momentum.
Maine: Not only has Medvedev become a better player since the last time he faced Nadal in a major final, at the US Open in 2019, he also now has some experience — and a Grand Slam title — under his belt. He undeniably has the tools and the weapons to beat anyone on hard court, so the key for him will likely be keeping his nerves in check and having the same calm and cool demeanor he had during his victory over Djokovic at the US Open final in September. He has struggled with his temper in Melbourne, but if he can stay composed and play his best tennis, this is his trophy to win.
Michaels: There are two things Medvedev must do. First, and it’s an obvious one, but he needs to continue playing the brand of breathtaking tennis which has seen him win more hard-court matches than any other player on the ATP tour over the past three years. Medvedev loves to race through his service games and then immediately apply pressure with his ability to track down balls from all over the court. The other thing I want to see from Medvedev is composure. As great as he’s been at times this past fortnight, he can also be a little erratic when things don’t go his way. This is a Slam final, it’s not going to be straightforward, Daniil!
Shriver: Medvedev needs to hit his spots well on serve, especially out wide on both sides, and follow up the big serves with a heavy plus one to the open court. Medvedev must be alert to Nadal serving and volleying on some crucial points, and perhaps be willing to move closer to the baseline sometimes to hit his returns. Medvedev should go into mental lockdown, ignoring all things outside his control like the pro Nadal crowd and Nadal’s pace of play. If Medvedev gets down two sets, know that Nadal is not the same confident frontrunner as he once was.
Walsh: Keep his head in the game. He’s the best player in the world right now — especially on the hard courts, so really, Medvedev is the deserved favorite heading into this clash. There’s also history on the line for Nadal, which (regardless of what Nadal will say) must be weighing on him. If Medvedev can keep a clear head, or at least move past or channel his emotions into his tennis as he did in the fourth set against Stefanos Tsitsipas, he should be the winner at the end of the night.
Who do you think will win?
Connelly: Medvedev. In a Djokovic-less universe, he’s the best hard-courter around. More importantly, he knows he can get this done. He’s got the proof-of-concept that all the other elite players in their early- to mid-20s are still searching for.
Jensen: Styles of play make the fight, and these two back-court players are different in the way they approach rallies. Nadal wants to be the puncher right from the first strike. Medvedev wants to hang back and allow the point to develop before he finds his opening to strike. I see Nadal making history, reaching 21 major wins and running Medvedev all over Melbourne. The Spanish Bull wins in a five-set thriller!
Kumar: Nadal. I know he’s coming back from an injury and he’s 10 years older than Medvedev, but experience counts for a lot in a Grand Slam final. And let’s not forget the number of major finals Nadal has played in. Twenty-eight. Medvedev has been in four – including this year’s Australian Open – and in moments of intense pressure, I believe Nadal will know exactly how to navigate it. Nadal has an upper hand in their head-to-head at 3-1, and the last time they played each other at a final of a Grand Slam — at the 2019 US Open — Nadal did exactly that, keeping his cool during the most important moments, taking the final set 6-4 after losing the third and fourth set. I expect the final to be thrilling in every possible way, and I expect Nadal to walk away with the trophy.
Maine: As incredible of a story and ending to this tournament as Nadal winning No. 21 would be, Medvedev will prove to be just too good on hard court. Medvedev in four sets.
Michaels: I know Nadal played some amazing tennis in his semifinal win over Matteo Berrettini but I just can’t see Medvedev losing this match. He’s the best hard-court player in the world right now (okay, equal best!) and is growing in confidence each time he steps onto the court. The majority of crowd support will no doubt be with Rafa, but Medvedev has already shown that it won’t have a negative impact on his game (you only need to go back and look at his match against Nick Kyrgios). I’m picking Medvedev in four tough sets.
Shriver: Medvedev will make history by becoming the first man in the Open Era to follow up his first major win with his second in the very next major. Medvedev will move alongside Djokovic as the two best hard-court players of this generation. Medvedev in four sets.
Walsh: This is such a head vs. heart question this time around. There’s a reason that Medvedev is the best player in this draw and maybe even the world right now. He also relishes hard-court tournaments. Nadal very much prefers playing during the afternoon here, with the sun beating down and when the courts are a little faster. Given the evening start and the tournament the Russian is playing, I think Medvedev wins this in four sets — as wonderful as it would be to see a player hit that magical 21 Slam title mark here in Melbourne.