Rafael Nadal is relishing the opportunity to surprise as he attempts to hunt down a record 21st grand slam title at the Australian Open.
The 35-year-old only committed to travelling to Melbourne a couple of days before his flight having doubted he would be back at all while he battled foot problems last season.
But Nadal has so far been too good for all his opponents and stands just two matches away from surpassing his great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
There are parallels with Federer’s run here five years ago, when he returned from knee problems with expectations low only to battle through the draw and beat Nadal in the final in one of the great grand slam stories.
Nadal only just survived a five-set examination from Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals on Tuesday but lives to fight another day.
“I am just enjoying playing tennis,” said Nadal ahead of his clash with Matteo Berrettini on Friday.
“Of course I want to keep winning, but more than because I want to achieve or I want to have more than the others, it’s because I love what I am doing. I want to keep doing this as long as possible.
“Of course the last six months there have been a lot of doubts if I would be able to keep going. But now I feel good. We are in a position that we won a tournament, we are in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, so that’s amazing for me.
“In terms of what can happen in the future, honestly I really don’t care that much. I don’t believe that my future happiness is going to depend on if I achieve one more grand slam than the others or if the others achieve more grand slams than me.”
Make no mistake that Nadal wants this title, though, and he finds himself in the position that Djokovic has occupied so often recently of trying to hold off the next generation.
First up is seventh-seeded Italian Berrettini, who has become a consistent performer at the slams and is looking to follow up his Wimbledon final appearance by reaching a second Sunday showdown.
The 25-year-old lost his only previous meeting with Nadal at the US Open in 2019, and said: “This is a great opportunity again for me.
“I watched him so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him, and playing with him in Rod Laver in the semi-finals 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 going to be a really tough one. But 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.”
The other match is a repeat of last year’s semi-final between second seed Daniil Medvedev and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
— Daniil Medvedev (@DaniilMedwed) January 26, 2022
Medvedev won comfortably 12 months ago but comes into this match having recovered from two sets to love down and saved a match point in a dramatic and draining quarter-final against Felix Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday night.
“I never had this experience,” said the Russian. “I played some long matches but never like four hours and never won it to be able to play in two days.
“If we look at the best, they were able to do it somehow. I don’t know how. So, 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.
“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.”
Medvedev is bidding to make his own bit of history by becoming the first man in the Open era to follow up a maiden grand slam title by winning the next major tournament.
“It’s a good challenge,” he said. “I’m two matches away. US Open gave me a lot of confidence. I need to continue fighting.”
Tsitsipas came into the tournament with doubts over his fitness after elbow surgery in November and has had several scares but produced an exemplary performance to defeat Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals.