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Rafael Nadal tracking down Roger Federer's Grand Slam record

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Matteo Berrettini in

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Matteo Berrettini in the men's singles semifinals of the U.S. Open Friday. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

If he wins Sunday’s U.S. Open championship final, that would be a 19th major-tournament title for Rafael Nadal. That would put him one short of Roger Federer’s career record for men, with time and the French Open — which Nadal has won an astounding 12 times — on his side.

At 33, Nadal is five years younger than Federer. Novak Djokovic, at 32 and with 16 major titles, is out there, too, though both he and Federer were eliminated earlier in this Open. So the notion certainly is out there that Nadal, by next spring’s French Open, very likely could take the lead in this historic accumulation of tennis riches.

His opponent, fifth-ranked Daniil Medvedev of Russia, has established himself as worthy of Sunday’s final by winning more matches, 49, than any other player on the men’s tour in 2019. He has won 20 of his 22 matches and won his first two tour titles on U.S. hardcourts this summer.

Furthermore, Medvedev’s confidence is soaring. “Deep inside I understand that what I’ve done these four weeks is amazing,” he said. “I’ve done amazing things. Also one more thing: I don’t want to stop.”

Still, Medvedev is only 23 and already has advanced three rounds farther along than in any of his previous 11 Slam appearances. He possesses a good helping of Nadal’s resilience and tireless tenacity, a willingness to play an extra shot. And another. And another. And another.

Except in Medvedev’s only career meeting with Nadal, in the final of the Montreal tournament in August, Nadal reeled off a straight-set 6-3, 6-0 victory. Medvedev has not yet proven that he can turn a defensive shot into winner the way Nadal does, or that he can return serve as consistently as Nadal, or that his net play compares with Nadal’s.

Thus the narrative for Sunday: Will this set Nadal up to eventually — perhaps quite soon — become the all-time men’s leader in collecting major-tournament trophies.

Would be important to him.

“Yes,” Nadal confirmed. “But I always say the same: We are still playing. Here we are. When I arrived here, my goal was to produce a chance to compete for the big thing again. Here I am.

“But as I always say to you,” he added, “and is true: I would love to be the one to have more, yes. But you cannot be all day frustrated, or all day thinking about what’s your neighbor have better than you. You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do your way.

“If you are the one to achieve more, fantastic. If not, at least I give my best during all of my career. That’s all.”

Nadal always has been a one-point-at-a-time, one-stroke-at-a-time player. His disposition does not suffer with competitive setbacks, though he acknowledges disappointment with chronic knee trouble that has curtailed his playing schedule. Since making his Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2003, he has missed eight Slams because of injury and just last year was forced to retire mid-match from the U.S. semifinal with knee pain.

He is a brick-by-brick builder, and there is “personal satisfaction…personal happiness” at continuing to carry on at the highest level. After that?

“You win, you lose,” he said. “That’s part of all the sport….I still sleep very well without being the one who has more Grand Slams.”

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