Rafael Nadal is carrying the streak of the Big Three and trying to keep the 1990s generation smothered.
Nadal reached the U.S. Open semifinals with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 sweep of Argentine Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday night. Nadal squandered double-break leads in each of the first two sets before breaking again to close them out.
“Straight sets, but big challenge,” he said of the 2-hour, 46-minute match where he sweat profusely in the humidity. “I accepted the challenge.”
Nadal is the only man of the semifinalists who has Grand Slam final experience. He is the only man of the semifinalists born in the 1980s. No man born in the 1990s has won a Slam, and no man other than Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer has won a Slam since the start of 2017.
It’s all on Nadal after Djokovic and Federer bowed out injured in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively. Nadal’s path would appear clear to his 19th Grand Slam title, moving within one of Federer’s total for the first time in his career.
But then again, this U.S. Open has been far from predictable. Take Nadal’s semifinal opponent Friday.
No. 24 Matteo Berrettini, a 23-year-old Italian, never made it past the fourth round of a prior major. But he took out flashy French veteran Gael Monfils 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) on Wednesday afternoon. Berrettini has never played Nadal, but remembers watching him on TV as far back as 2005. The Spaniard won an ATP title in five sets in Rome that pre-empted cartoons.
“I saw, like, a hundred of his matches,” Berrettini said. “Who in this tour doesn’t know Rafa?”
The other semifinal pits 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov against Daniil Medvedev, the villainous fifth seed who had never before made a Slam quarterfinal but has been red-hot this summer.
In women’s action, No. 13 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and No. 15 Bianca Andreescu of Canada each made her first Grand Slam semifinal. The women’s semis are Thursday night, starting with Serena Williams against No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
Williams, eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles titles, can identify with Nadal. She is the lone woman remaining who has Grand Slam final experience and the only one born in the 1980s.