NEW YORK — The last time Rafael Nadal was within one Grand Slam title of Roger Federer‘s total, there was no Federer-Nadal rivarly. They had not yet played against each other.
But Nadal has the opportunity for a 19th crown — moving one shy of Federer’s male record — in Sunday’s U.S. Open final (4 p.m. ET) against Russian Daniil Medvedev. He swept 24th seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-1 in Friday’s semifinals.
Earlier, the fifth seed Medvedev took out Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 to extend the most successful summer of anybody on tour. Medvedev is 20-2 since Wimbledon, with one of the losses coming in his first meeting with Nadal — a 6-3, 6-0 beating.
“He kind of, I would say, eaten me on the court,” Medvedev said. “He was only going harder, harder, faster, stronger, and I was only going down.”
Nadal, by winning a 12th French Open in June, moved within two Slams of Federer’s total for the first time since Federer had two and Nadal had zero in 2004. Afterward, he twice shrugged off questions about a record chase.
“It’s a motivation, but it’s not my obsession,” Nadal said then. “You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden. That’s not the way that I see the life, you know.”
But Nadal did add that he believes he lost the chance to win “15 or more” Slams due to injuries.
“But I don’t think my future will be worth any more if I equal Federer’s record,” he said. “If, at the end of my career, I am able to win a couple of more Grand Slams and be closer to Roger, will be unbelievable. If not, for me, still unbelievable, no?”
Medvedev, 23, looks to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam. He is the youngest Slam finalist since Novak Djokovic at the 2010 U.S. Open.
He is also the busiest man on the ATP Tour. Medvedev has won as many matches since Wimbledon as Nadal, Djokovic and Federer combined. He has won 50 matches overall this year and made seven finals, also tops on tour.
“He’s making steps forward every single week,” Nadal said. “Will be the toughest opponent in the final.”
Does Medvedev, who endured cramps and embraced crowd boos as a sort-of villain these two weeks, have enough left to win the biggest match of his life?
“This summer’s been, I should say, so fast and long at the same time,” said the lanky, 6-foot-6 Russian who had never before made a Slam quarterfinal. “But here, this week, everything has worked out.
“I don’t want to stop.”
MORE: Roger Federer undecided on Olympics
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk