The remarkable summer of Daniil Medvedev continued on Friday night, as he fought his way into his first Grand Slam final at the United States Open.
The fifth-seeded Medvedev, a lanky and vexing player with an unconventional style, defeated the unseeded Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3, in a semifinal under the roof in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Medvedev is the first Russian to reach the U.S. Open men’s final since Marat Safin won the tournament in 2000.
Safin is also the last Russian man to win a Grand Slam tournament, the 2005 Australian Open. But Medvedev, who gained infamy earlier in the tournament for his boorish on-court behavior in one match and his taunts to the crowd, still needs to win three more sets.
On Sunday, he will play the winner of the Friday night semifinal between No. 2-seeded Rafael Nadal and No. 24-seeded Matteo Berrettini.
Medvedev, 23, has a chance to be the first player outside the so-called Big Three — Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal — to win a major title since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 U.S. Open, a span of 11 Grand Slam tournaments.
Whether playing the role of villain, good guy or something down the middle, Medvedev just keeps winning. He also reached the finals of his previous three tournaments — in Washington, Montreal and Mason, Ohio — and has gone 20-2 on hardcourts this summer.
“When I was coming to the U.S., I didn’t know it would be that good,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “I have to say, I love U.S.A.”
With that comment, he received more cheers, pushing himself further from his earlier role as the villain of the tournament.
Medvedev is known for his wide variety of shots, including a hard, flat backhand and a forehand characterized by an unusual windup and follow-through. He has the ability to force opponents into mistakes, either through mis-hits or poor decisions. Dimitrov demonstrated both.
“He’s awkward to play against,” said Jim Courier, a television analyst and four-time major champion. “It’s quirky. He’s sneaky fast. Obviously, clever and a natural gamer. There’s no question that he played chess in his developing years, and he has translated those skills onto the tennis court.”
Courier said that after a recent Medvedev match he bumped into Brad Gilbert, another former player and television analyst, who wrote a book called, “Winning Ugly.” Courier said he saw similarities between Medvedev and Gilbert.
“The game styles are not similar, but the way Brad made other guys play worse is very similar,” Courier said. “That’s one of Medvedev’s best skills. He makes his opponents feel awkward, and they make bad choices as a result.”
Dimitrov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, was also attempting to reach his first Grand Slam final, but lost in his third Grand Slam semifinal. He had upset Federer in the quarterfinals this year. He started last season No. 3 in the rankings, but when this U.S. Open started, he was No. 78.
Although the opening set seemed to tilt toward Dimitrov, Medvedev refused to allow his older opponent to gain a distinct advantage, and it ended in a tiebreaker
Dimitrov led, 2-0, early in the tiebreaker, but Medvedev won four straight points to take the lead, thanks in part to a Dimitrov double fault. At 5-5, Dimitrov hit a bad unforced error into the net, and then on his first set point, Medvedev won it when Dimitrov hit a forehand wide, 61 minutes after the match began.
“The first set he was much closer to winning,” Medvedev said. “I won it and completely changed the momentum of the match.”
The second set was almost as grueling, highlighted by two marathon points. One was a 33-shot rally that the Bulgarian punctuated with an inside-out forehand winner. Then in the next game, they swatted the ball back and forth from the baseline 39 times — the longest rally of the tournament — before Dimitrov hit a forehand long.
Many times, Dimitrov seemed to force shots, or make bad decisions as a result of Medvedev’s unorthodox consistency. In the final game of the second set, Dimitrov hit a slice backhand when he had a chance to put away a winner, and Medvedev won the point with a winner of his own, another of his signature hard, flat backhands. On set point, Dimitrov hit a backhand into the net.
In the third set, Medvedev had an even easier time of it, to earn a spot in his first Grand Slam final.