US Open 2019 Semifinal Preview: Berrettini, Dimitrov, Medvedev eye maiden Slam final; Nadal seeks berth in fifth Flushing Meadows title match
And then there were four.
Following the fourth-round exit of defending champion Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Daniil Medvedev averted a first all-Swiss Flushing Meadows semifinal in four years by taking out five-time winner Roger Federer and Djokovic's conqueror Stanislas Wawrinka respectively in the quarterfinals.
After Matteo Berrettini prevailed over veteran Frenchman Gael Monfils in a fifth-set tiebreak, three-time winner Rafael Nadal restored the status-quo for the big-three by overcoming gritty Argentinian Diego Schwartzman to complete the semifinal line-up.
Nadal's defeat would have meant three first-time Grand Slam semifinalists at Flushing Meadows for the first time in the Open Era.
Here is a preview of the two semifinals in the last Grand Slam tournament of the season:
Semifinal 1: Daniil Medvedev (5) vs Grigor Dimitrov
After Dimitrov beat Federer for the first time in eight career meetings to reach his third Grand Slam semifinal and first at the US Open, Medvedev notched a tour-leading 36th win on hardcourt by downing Djokovic's conqueror Stan Wawrinka to reach his first major semifinal.
It is not the semifinal many would have anticipated in the top half of the draw where Federer and Djokovic were touted to set up their fifth last-four showdown at Flushing Meadows.
Both Dimitrov and Medvedev have taken contrasting routes to the semifinals. Dimitrov started his ninth campaign at the US Open with a four-set win over Andreas Seppi before a second-round walkover over Borna Coric put the Bulgarian in the third-round.
Dimitrov racked up a pair of straight-set wins to arrive at his first US Open quarterfinal, where five-time champion Roger Federer lay in wait.
Dimitrov was winless in the pair's seven previous meetings and had won only two sets against the Swiss maestro but on the day the Bulgarian recovered from a two sets to one deficit to pull off a massive upset and reach his first Flushing Meadows semifinal.
In the process, the 78th-ranked Dimitrov became the lowest-ranked Grand Slam semifinalist in 11 years since 94th-ranked Rainer Schüttler at the 2008 Wimbledon.
Medvedev, on the other hand, started his third US Open campaign with a straight-set win over Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran but was taken to four sets in each of his next four matches where he successfully saw off Hugo Dellien, Feliciano Lopez, Dominic Koepfer and 2016 champion Stanislas Wawrinka to reach his maiden Slam semifinal.
Medvedev is assured of a career-high ranking of 4 regardless of how he fares in the rest of the tournament while Dimitrov is slated to return to the top-30 after making the semifinals in New York. The Bulgarian would break into the top-20 for the first time in eight months if he reaches his maiden Slam final.
Dimitrov and Medvedev have split their two previous meetings on tour but this will be the pair's first Grand Slam meeting.
On current form, Medvedev, chasing a tour-leading 50th win of the season, would start as the marginal favourite. However, Dimitrov brings with him Grand Slam semifinal pedigree as well as confidence after his first win over Federer.
Semifinal 2: Matteo Berrettini (24) vs Rafael Nadal (2)
Two-time ATP tour titlist Matteo Berrettini overcame Frenchman Gael Monfils in a pulsating five-set clash to reach his maiden Slam semifinal and become the first Italian player since Corrado Barazzutti in 1978 to reach the last-four at the US Open.
In the second semifinal at the 2019 US Open, Berrettini, who faces the left-handed Rafael Nadal, will strive to go one step further than his compatriot Barazzutti who came unstuck against a left-handed opponent (Connors) in the 1978 semifinal.
18-time Grand Slam champion Nadal beat gritty Argentinian Diego Schwartzman in the last quarterfinal to complete the last-four line-up and reach his 33rd Grand Slam semifinal. In the process, the Spaniard thwarted the possibility of three first-time Grand Slam semifinalists at Flushing Meadows for the first time in the Open Era.
It is the first time since 2008 that Nadal has made at least the semifinals at all the four Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year and the Spaniard will start as an overwhelming favourite against the 23-year-old Berrettini whom he has never met before on tour.
Nadal's last defeat in a Grand Slam semifinal was against Federer at Wimbledon earlier in the season while three of the Spaniard's six Grand Slam defeats at the last-four stage have come at Flushing Meadows (2008, 2009, 2018).
Nadal dropped his only set of the tournament to 2014 winner Marin Cilic in the fourth round while Berrettini dropped a set in each of his first three rounds before beating Andrey Rublev in straight sets and then being taken the distance by Monfils in the quarterfinals.
Among the four semifinalists, Nadal has spent the least time on the court and has displayed a propensity to go for first-strike tennis and not wear down his opponents in endless gruelling baseline rallies, which may not augur well for Berrettini.
With his run to the semis, Berrettini is slated to break into the top-15 for the first time in his career and would move to the cusp of a maiden top-ten breakthrough if he upsets Nadal in their upcoming encounter.