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Men's final preview: Destiny versus the disruptor

  • Alex Sharp

There is a pretty extensive list of contrasts for the Australian Open 2022 men's final. 
Rafael Nadal has escaped from pre-tournament doubts and fears to unleash his warrior mode, the firebrand of tennis which has reaped 20 Grand Slams.  
The ultimate disrupter Daniil Medvedev will join him for the walk down the corridor of champions onto Rod Laver Arena on Sunday. 

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The world No.2 has endured a tumultuous path at Melbourne Park, seeking a second successive major to repeat his riveting New York ride. Agitated, menacing, compelling … the Russian's route has had it all. 

They've already had some absorbing battles, Medvedev completely unfazed by the aura of facing a 'Big Three' legend. Buckle up for another blockbuster. 
Back to Friday's semifinal tussle with Matteo Berrettini, and the tears were flowing for Nadal. It was an outpouring of emotion, bottled up by six months on the sidelines with a chronic foot injury last season.  

"I went through a lot of challenging moments, a lot of days of hard work without seeing a light there," admitted the 35-year-old. 

"A lot of conversations with the team, with the family about what gonna happen if the things continue like this, thinking that maybe is a chance to say goodbye. That was not a lot of months ago. 

Nadal is just one win away from a milestone that seemed unlikely not so long ago

"To be able to be where I am today, I really can't explain in words how important is for me in terms of energy, in terms of personal satisfaction, in terms of being very thankful." 
From possible retirement to a possible 21st Grand Slam in a matter of months sums up Nadal to a tee. 
In tennis terms he "feels alive again," having pulled off another six vintage Nadal performances to roar into a 29th major final. 
Locked level on 20 majors with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the narrative swirls around the all-time men's roll of honour. But not for Nadal.  

"For me, it's something completely unexpected," stated the world No.5, with a fresh perspective following his injury comeback. 

"It's a present, just be here and play tennis. I am taking now the things a little bit in a different way. Of course, always with competitive spirit that I have. It's my personal DNA. 
"It's a positive energy for me to keep going, being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21. Because that's makes me more happy in terms of general life, to be able to do the thing that I like." 

World No.2 Medvedev loves to rip up the script, and he has another chance on Sunday. The US Open champion defied the odds to halt Djokovic for No.21 back in New York.  
"It's not me going for the 21st, not me trying to break these records. I'm going for my second one. I'm still far from all these things," said the 25-year-old.  

Medvedev has passed every test on the way to the decider

"I'm not lying, I know what's happening, I know what Rafa is going for, I knew what Novak was going for. I'm just trying to focus on myself, doing my job." 
Nadal might hold the 3-1 edge in their head-to-head, including a rollercoaster five-set finale at the 2019 US Open silverware showdown, but Medvedev claimed their last meeting in three wicked sets in the final four of the 2020 ATP Finals.  
"It's really tough to get into the final, and I always have them (Djokovic/Nadal) there waiting for me," recalled the Russian, a finalist at Melbourne Park last summer too. 

"But it's fun. Again, when I was eight, 10 years old I was playing against the wall and I was imagining that it's Rafa on the other side, or Roger. Novak was still not yet there, I think. 
"What I took of the three finals that I had before, that you have to do better than 100 per cent in order to win. That's what I managed to do in US Open. That's what I'm gonna try to do on Sunday." 
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Daniil the disrupter defied a raucous crowd and an inspired Nick Kyrgios, clawed his way back from a match point facing Felix Auger-Aliassime, and regained his composure in a world-class and tension-filled victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas. 

Adversity pours fuel on his fire.  
"I told this before the tournament, I really don't have much pressure," added Medvedev, vying to become the first man in the Open Era to win his second major at the very next Grand Slam event after his first.
"I know what I'm capable of when I'm playing well. I know that I can beat anybody. The same time you can lose to anybody. I almost lost to Felix, second round against Nick was a tight one. 

"But it gave me a lot of confidence in my own power, in my own tennis, that now I know that I'm capable of winning seven matches in a row." 
Both players relish a prolonged rally, and they'll both look to outgun their opponent in a physical match, dragging each other from side to side, front to back.  
"Rafa, we know that from the first till last point he's gonna fight his best," said the second seed. 

"That's what I'm gonna try to do too." 
Let battle commence.