Australian Open: Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev chasing major milestones ahead of semi-finals

Rafael Nadal can set a new all-time record, Daniil Medvedev can climb to world number one for the first time, while Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas are fighting for their maiden majors.

Novak Djokovic getting deported may have dominated the lead-up to the Australian Open, but the men have certainly stepped up to provide the entertainment since.

The competition enters the semi-final stage on Friday and we are left with four incredibly strong contenders - including Rafael Nadal, who is attempting to make history.

It really does look like anyone's tournament to win from here, so we take a look at the semi-final match-ups.

Matteo Berrettini (7) vs Rafael Nadal (6)

Head-to-head

Matches played: 1

Berrettini wins: 0

Nadal wins: 1

It feels strange to think that these two players are meeting for just the second time on court. Interestingly, their only other match was a Grand Slam semi-final too - the 2019 US Open.

That one was won by Nadal, who went on to claim a 19th major. If he wins this one it'll make it 21, which would set a new record in the men's game.

Nadal has probably already performed above expectations in the tournament, in fairness. He came into it on the back of 18 months of struggles with a foot injury. The Spaniard also suffered a Covid-19 infection last month which he says "destroyed him".

However, he is firmly in the mix to win the title, but first he has to find a way past the ludicrously big-hitting Berrettini.

That means Nadal will have to defend - a lot. We know he is capable of that, but whether his foot stands up to what is sure to be an incredibly physical match is another question entirely.

Rafael Nadal in focus

Rafael Nadal in action at the Australian Open

Age: 35

World ranking: 5

Highest ranking: 1

Career titles: 89

Career majors: 20

Plays: Left

Career W/L: 1031/209 (83%)

Route to the semi-finals: R1 - Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-4, 6-2

R2 - Yannick Hoffman 6-2, 6-3, 6-4

R3 - Karen Khachanov (28) 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1

R4 - Adrian Mannarino 7-6, 6-2, 6-2

QF - Denis Shapovalov (14) 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3

Berrettini is a big-hitting behemoth who is really on the rise right now in terms of contesting the biggest tournaments.

He reached the Wimbledon final last year before losing to Novak Djokovic, but he is cutting a much more mature figure right now than in previous years.

Berrettini is all about the power game. He has two huge weapons in his serve and forehand, but his movement has improved immeasurably over the last two years and it is that which has been the real difference-maker.

History suggests that when the younger come up against one of the 'big three' of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic, they tend to play the reputation rather than the match itself. That has led to over-pressing more times than you'd think, which ultimately results in them beating themselves more often than not.

If Berrettini can avoid that, he might just be the slight favourite in this one.

Matteo Berrettini in focus

Matteo Berrettini roar at Australian Open

Age: 25

World ranking: 7

Highest ranking: 7

Career titles: 5

Career majors: 0

Plays: Right

Career W/L: 113/65 (63%)

Route to the semi-finals: R1 - Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3

R2 - Stefan Kozlov 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1

R3 - Carlos Alcaraz (31) 6-2, 7-6, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6

R4 - Pablo Carreno Busta (19) 7-5, 7-6, 6-4

QF - Gael Monfils (17) 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2

Planet Sport prediction: Berrettini in five

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs Daniil Medvedev (2)

Head-to-head

Matches played: 8

Tsitsipas wins: 2

Medvedev wins: 6

On paper this looks like a really exciting match-up and there is no reason to expect it to be anything but on the court.

Tsitsipas is a player who can beat anyone on his day. He reached his first major final last year at the French Open before losing to Djokovic, and he is a former ATP Finals winner.

Where he has struggled is doing it consistently. The Greek is not a power player, relying more on the finesse and touch that, at times, can be quite reminiscent of Roger Federer's game.

Although his head-to-head record with Medvedev makes for grim reading, he has done special things at the Australian Open before. Last year he came back from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final, which is practically unheard of.

Of course, he then faced Medvedev in the last four and was utterly blown away by the Russian, which really does highlight his problems with inconsistency.

Stefanos Tsitsipas in focus

Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open

Age: 23

World ranking: 4

Highest ranking: 3 (August 2021)

Career titles: 7

Career majors: 0

Plays: Right

Career W/L: 189/96 (66%)

Route to semi-final: R1 - Mikael Ymer 6-2, 6-4, 6-3

R2 - Sebastian Baez 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4

R3 - Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4

R4 - Taylor Fritz (20) 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

QF - Jannik Sinner (11) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2

The last 10-15 years in men's tennis has been all about searching for a true competitor for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Andy Murray has been the only one to provide it - until now.

There is an argument to be made that Daniil Medvedev is the best player in the world right now. Of course, Djokovic and his legions of fans would have something to say about that, but the Russian has a case.

In the last year he has reached two major finals - both against Djokovic and winning one of them - and won the ATP Finals. If he wins the Australian Open, he will usurp the Serbian as world number one.

What makes Medvedev so brilliant for tennis, though, is that he is not just brilliant but brilliantly watchable. His technique is unique and his personality quirky in the extreme.

Last season was a huge one for him. Winning his maiden major was important, but to do it by beating Djokovic at his peak has provided the kind of belief that has transformed Medvedev's confidence and whole demeanour to that of a champion.

This one of far from a foregone conclusion, but if Medvedev is at his best Tsitsipas can't quite hang with him yet.

Daniil Medvedev in focus

Daniil Medvedev backhand at Australian Open

Age: 25

World ranking: 2

Highest ranking: 2

Career titles: 13

Career majors: 1

Plays: Right

Career W/L: 225/100 (69%)

Route to semi-final: R1 - Henri Laaksonen 6-1, 6-4, 7-6

R2 - Nick Kyrgios 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

R3 - Botic van de Zandschlup 6-4, 6-4, 6-2

R4 - Maxime Cressy 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5

QF - Felix Auger Aliassime (9) 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-4

Planet Sport prediction: Medvedev in four

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