The 2022 Australian Open men's singles final will feature a member of the "Big Three" looking to set a men's record and an opponent looking for his second-straight trophy at a Grand Slam.
No. 6 Rafael Nadal punched his ticket to the climactic match by beating No. 7 Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, in Friday's semifinal. It will be his sixth appearance in the final in Melbourne; he won it all back in 2009.
Nadal is tied with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for the most men's Grand Slam titles with 20. A second Aussie Open title would break the deadlock with his great rivals.
Standing in the way of Nadal and history is No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who outlasted No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday's second semifinal match, winning 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Medvedev won his first major title at the 2021 U.S. Open by upsetting Djokovic. He can get his second if he takes down Nadal on Sunday. Here's how to watch.
2022 Australian Open Men's Singles Final
Where: Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia
When: Sunday, Jan. 30 at 3:30 a.m. ET
Live stream: ESPN+
Nadal's Road to the Final
It's foolish to pick against Nadal in any Grand Slam tournament, but even he might've thought a finals appearance would be a bit ambitious considering his recent injury difficulties.
This is just Nadal's second tournament after returning from a chronic foot injury that sidelined him for several months and kept him out of last year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He even hinted at retirement. Rather than give up, the 35-year-old Spaniard soldiered on, got healthy and has returned to form rather quickly.
Nadal cruised through much of the first four rounds in Melbourne, dropping a lone set to No. 28 Karen Khachanov in his third match. Things got more difficult in the quarterfinal against No. 14 Denis Shapovalov.
After dropping the first two sets, Shapovalov put Nadal on the defensive and won the next two sets. Nadal looked like he might be destined for a third straight exit at the quarterfinals in this tournament, but he rallied to win the deciding set 6-3.
The match was apparently as exhausting as it looked, with Nadal saying it left him "completely destroyed," per Tennis World's Jovica Ilic. He must have recovered quickly because fatigue didn't seem to be much of an issue against Berrettini in the semifinal. Nadal's athleticism and skill shone through, helping him win long rallies like this one in the second set:
Berrettini put up a good fight and managed to take the third set off Nadal, but he couldn't sustain the level of play needed to beat the powerful lefty. After the match, Nadal talked about what it meant for him to have another shot at winning this tournament.
"I feel very lucky that I won once in my career in 2009, but I never thought about another chance in 2022. So I'll just try to enjoy the victory of today and then after tomorrow I'm going to try my best," he said in his on-court interview.
Now headed to the 29th Grand Slam final of his career, Nadal has a chance to make history.
Medvedev's Road to the Final
It's been quite the journey for Medvedev in Melbourne. The 25-year-old Russian has faced a mix of temperaments and playing styles through six rounds, but he's solved every riddle.
In the second round, Medvedev ran into the mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios. The match featured outbursts from Kyrgios and some intriguing play, with Kyrgios mixing in some rare underhand serves to make Medvedev pay for his deep return position. Though Kyrgios did manage to win the third set, Medvedev was in control for long stretches of the match.
Medvedev then met Maxime Cressy in the fourth round, a rare practitioner of the serve-and-volley game. Cressy's charges to the net kept Medvedev off balance, and he managed to take a set. But, again, the world No. 2 persevered by keeping errors to a minimum and dominating when on serve.
The quarterfinal was a grueling five-set fight with No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian won the first two sets and had Medvedev on the brink in the third set. Medvedev managed to dig deep and win the third-set tiebreaker, then take the final two sets to win a match that lasted four hours and 42 minutes.
He got Tsitsipas in the semifinal. Medvedev won the first-set by razor-thin margins, with both men playing some of their best tennis.
This mesmerizing 34-shot rally in the ninth game is a good example:
Tsitsipas was able to break Medvedev twice and win the second set, which led to Medvedev accusing him of receiving coaching from his father and taking out his frustrations on the match official:
This wasn't Medvedev's first outburst of the tournament—he loudly complained his match with Cressy was "boring" because of the amount of time the American was taking between points—but he never let his emotions get the best of him. He elevated his game and took down Tstitsipas in four sets to reach the final.
"Grand Slam finals are special ... I'm ready. I know that Rafa is a very strong player, I know I will need to show my best to try to win this match," Medvedev said after the win, per the Guardian's Luke McLaughlin.
This will be the second meeting between Nadal and Medvedev in a Grand Slam final. Nadal won the first outing at the 2019 U.S. Open, besting Medvedev in five sets. That tournament was Medvedev's first big breakthrough at a Grand Slam. His game has only improved since then.
Nadal might be the sentimental favorite because he's close to making history, but he'll have to wait. Look for Medvedev to win the final and establish himself as a standard-bearer for a post-Big Three era (whenever that finally arrives). Nadal will simply have to set his sights on the French Open, his best tournament, to try for that 21st Grand Slam.