Daniil Medvedev has reached back-to-back Australian Open finals, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4 6-1 in a high-quality encounter under the roof at Rod Laver Arena on Friday night.
It marked the second straight year the Russian topped Tsitsipas in the semifinals at Melbourne Park, although the circumstances entering this contest differed.
Eleven months ago, Medvedev cruised past countryman Andrey Rublev to get to the final four, while the Greek all-arounder rallied from two sets down against Rafael Nadal.
Rewind to Wednesday, and Tsitsipas sizzled against Jannik Sinner in his best performance of the fortnight before Medvedev saved a match point and needed nearly five hours to overturn a two-set deficit against Felix Auger-Aliassime in his quarterfinal.
But he seemed to have plenty of energy – his spirits no doubt lifted by grabbing the pivotal first set – to set up a tantalising final against Nadal on Sunday.
"When I went out from the match with Felix, I talked to my coach and I was like, 'How do I do in two days?' Like in this moment I was so dead," Medvedev said in his on-court interview.
"I sat down in the locker room after the match and I barely could move. And I tried to do the recovery well and the next day I woke up and the moment I opened my eyes it was like, 'it's not too bad'.
"I felt some pain here and there, I can recover, and that’s what happened."
Medvedev noted that in facing Nadal, he plays a second member of the Big Three attempting to win major No. 21 for the all-time men's lead after foiling Djokovic in September’s US Open finale.
Djokovic triumphed in Melbourne in 2021 in straight sets.
Nadal trumped Medvedev in five sets at the 2019 US Open, the latter's maiden appearance in a Grand Slam final.
"I remember the match against Rafa at the US Open," Medvedev, 1-3 versus Nadal overall, said.
"We played a few matches since then and I'm ready. I know that Rafa is a very strong player and I will need to show my best to try to win this match."
Medvedev improved to 6-1 on hard courts against Tsitsipas, who advanced to the semifinals after off-season elbow surgery left the world No.4's Australian Open participation in doubt.
Both men hit more winners than unforced errors, and Tsitsipas impressed with his net play against Medvedev's supreme counterpunching to the delight of his many backers in the stands.
But Medvedev is almost unstoppable now on hard courts at majors, 33-4 in his last 37 tussles.
A visible obscenity to Medvedev and a coaching warning to Tsitsipas added to the drama.
The duo rolled along on serve for most of the first set, an indication of the free points they are able to generate.
The first point dropped on serve came at 2-2, a net-cord Medvedev winner.
But he threatened much more seriously at 4-4, getting to 0-30. A 34-shot rally followed, the world No.2 prevailing with trademark defence prior to unleashing an angle forehand winner.
His best opportunity of the four break chances in the game was his first, but a forehand down the line with Tsitsipas stranded went narrowly wide.
Would the disappointment unnerve Medvedev? No, as he held to love for 5-5, finally relinquishing his first point on serve at 5-6.
Clean, aggressive play handed Tsitsipas a 4-1 advantage in the tiebreak before Medvedev elevated with timely serving, including an ace for 5-5.
Seeing his lead evaporate, Tsitsipas pressed on the last two points, ending the set with a forehand wide.
It spelled trouble for Tsitsipas, since Medvedev has never lost a match at a hard court Grand Slam when claiming the first set.
But such an intense set can have immediate consequences, and Medvedev duly dropped serve for 0-1, later leveling at 3-3.
Medvedev's two double faults on the ad side, though, including on break point, gifted Tsitsipas a 5-4 lead.
He wasn't happy. Medvedev received the warning for an obscenity from Jaume Campistol, the Russian also displeased that Tsitsipas' dad, he claimed, was talking on "every point".
Aggressive stuff from Medvedev saved two set points, but Tsitsipas went back on the attack – after receiving a time violation warning – to grab the final two points.
After a bathroom break, Medvedev immediately faced two break points to begin the third set. A double fault went well astray. But he quickly adjusted, powering two serves to escape in what was another crucial stage.
Tsitsipas continued to stick with his tactic of finishing points at net, risky indeed. Points needed to be constructed well, and they were. At 2-3, deuce, a forehand crosscourt volley from around the service line brought cheers.
Some deft touch – a drop shot – immediately increased the pressure on Tsitsipas at 4-5, as did a lasered backhand pass down the line.
Three straight set points came, and Medvedev thumped a smash for another one-set lead.
On this occasion, there was no rally from Tsitsipas.
He received the warning for coaching – not for the first time this tournament – early in the fourth set and responded with a sheepish grin. That, too, not for the first time.
Medvedev broke for 3-1, and the rest of the affair contrasted the nip and tuck nature of the first three sets.
Medvedev won 16 of the final 20 points as his Grand Slam success on hard courts continued.
Thirteen aces, 39 winners and 28 unforced errors made for more pleasing statistics for the 25-year-old.
"Starting from 5-4 in the third, I just found some momentum, something in the eyes to try to read his serve to try to put every ball in, and then made some very important passing shots," said Medvedev.
"And his energy went down because of this, especially because of the end of the third set, and my energy was only going up."