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Men's semifinal preview: Twice the tension, double the drama

  • Alex Sharp

Four elite athletes, four players who have been on major stages before. Each one of this quartet serves up an intriguing narrative. 

Rafael Nadal, from five months on the sidelines, has roared back into contention and is just two victories away from leading the men's all-time Grand Slam Roll of Honour on 21. 

MORE: Day 12 schedule of play 

His opponent in the semifinals, Matteo Berrettini, is seeking his first major, fuelled by some devastating firepower.

Berrettini has been both brilliant and brave to make his first AO semifinal

Then there's the simmering rivalry between the mischievous Daniil Medvedev and philosophical Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas. 

US Open champion Medvedev has battled back from the brink to reach the final four, Tsitsipas, like Berrettini, is also seeking his maiden Grand Slam crown. 

It's a Friday semifinal line-up packed with storylines and intrigue.

MORE: AO 2022 men's singles draw

Let's start with Nadal, who continues to defy logic with his resolve and longevity. The 35-year-old appeared to be fading in his quarterfinal against Denis Shapovalov, surrendering his two sets lead before flipping the momentum with his vintage battling. 

"Don't know, was a little bit of miracle," he admitted afterwards.

"I was destroyed, honestly, physically." 

Like time and time again, Rafa found a way.  

Maligned by a multitude of injuries, the AO 2009 champion was forced to bounce back again in 2022. Three days before flying to Australia for the Melbourne 250 event (which he won), the Spaniard was still unsure of his chances to compete.  

"For me it's just a present of life that I am here playing tennis again," he said.
Nadal, grateful and not even in top gear yet, playing with oodles of "positive energy," will be a huge task for Berrettini. 

The Italian fell in straight sets 7-6(6) 6-4 6-1 to Nadal in the 2019 US Open semifinals. Since then, the 25-year-old has reached the Wimbledon final. Significantly, the only person in the past five Grand Slams to stop him is world No.1 Novak Djokovic. 

He's showed buckets of desire and heart to reach the final four this fortnight, exemplified in his five-set quarterfinal thriller against Gael Monfils. Just like his third round versus Carlos Alcaraz, a commanding two sets lead was erased, but he didn't panic and trusted his immense artillery. 

Berrettini is brimming with pride as the first Italian to reach the semifinals in Australian Open history. But the seventh seed feels there is unfinished business, having been forced to withdraw last year at Melbourne Park with an abdominal tear. 

"Great opportunity again for me," he said of his match-up with Nadal. 

"After two years and a half playing this guy that doesn't need anything more, from my words. I watch him so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him, and playing with him in Rod Laver in semifinals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid. 

"But now I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It's gonna be a really tough one. I'm in the semis in a Slam for the third time, so it means that this is my level and I want to get further." 

Berrettini's nemesis Novak Djokovic doesn't stand in the Italian's way this fortnight

The other semifinal combatants, Medvedev and Tsitsipas, couldn't have experienced more contrasting wins on Wednesday. 

The Greek delivered his finest match yet, flawlessly dismantling world No.10 Jannik Sinner 6-3 6-4 6-2 to march into the semifinals. "We're just getting started," said Tsitsipas. 

Meanwhile, Medvedev saved match point to escape in a 6-7(4) 3-6 7-6(2) 7-5 6-4 five-hour marathon with Felix Auger-Aliassime. 
The world No.2 will need to recover quickly to go toe-to-toe with Tsitsipas, but there are no secrets in this duel. Medvedev owns their previous clashes at 6-2, including the straight-sets triumph at this stage on Rod Laver Arena last February. 

Will it be déjà vu? 

It's fair to say the relationship between the two is frosty.  

"Well, it's fine. It kind of got better after Laver Cup," said the driven Tsitsipas. 

"We haven't really spoken in the last couple of months, but our relationship is competitors on the court and kind of fighting for the same dream. 
"I feel like I'm in the zone. I have no plans of getting out of it … I'm ready for anything." 
However, Tsitsipas knows he's been here before, and also suffered heartache from the Roland Garros final defeat by Djokovic from 2-0 up. The fourth seed has emphasised "humility" as the key to his progress to the latter stages.  

Tsitsipas will be fresh after his scintillating win over Sinner

"When you're dancing and when you're doing well, you tend to glorify yourself, as if you are untouchable," mused the Greek.  

"It is important in that process to remain on the ground and to remind yourself that you are a human being who is aiming for something great, and you're headed towards that direction and you're doing everything possible in order to achieve that greatness. Perfection doesn't exist, but close to perfection." 

Medvedev scribbled "not tired" onto the broadcast camera after his energy-sapping quarterfinal, trying to harness the mentality of the 'Big Three' to surge to a second major.  

"I told myself 'what Novak (Djokovic) would do?' Because he's one of the greatest champions. Or Roger (Federer) or Rafa (Nadal), they have won so many matches like this," claimed the second seed, maintaining he can bounce back physically and mentally after five hours on court.  

"Look at the best, they were able to do it somehow. If I want to be a part of this group, even if I'm really far right now, I want to try to make it happen," added the 25-year-old. 

"I'm going to try to recover as well as possible, to be ready to play against Stefanos, because he's a great player. I need to be at my best to beat him."