NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal found himself trailing in a tight first set against a bigger, younger opponent who was finding ways to cause trouble in their US Open semifinal.
Never one to panic, never liable to have a letdown, Nadal hung tough Friday night, waited for 24th-seeded Matteo Berrettini to wilt ever so slightly.
Nadal moved closer to a fourth US Open championship and 19th Grand Slam title overall — one away from Roger Federer’s record for men — by pulling away for a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 6-1 victory over Berrettini under the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The second-seeded Nadal was down, 4-0, then 5-2, then 6-4 in the opening tiebreaker before taking the next four points and was on his way.
‘‘You don’t want to be in a tiebreak against a player like Matteo . . . I was a little bit lucky, no?’’ Nadal said. ‘‘I survived at that moment and . . . after that, the match completely changed.’’
Nadal broke once in the second set and three times in the third, while never facing a single break point in the match.
The 33-year-old Spaniard will face No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia on Sunday.
It is Medvedev’s first major final, Nadal’s 27th. They've played once before, the final of the Montreal Masters hard-court tournament in August, and Nadal won, 6-3, 6-0.
‘‘He’s one of the more solid players on tour,’’ Nadal said. ‘‘He is making steps forward every single week.’’
Medvedev advanced earlier in the day by beating Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3.
The 23-year-old Russian first made a name for himself at the US Open by earning the wrath of spectators. During his on-court interview, Medvedev referenced his ‘‘tournament of controversies,’’ which included accumulating $19,000 in fines and antagonizing booing fans last week, saying he knew it was ‘‘not going to be easy with the public.’’
Medvedev’s tennis was a bit scratchy, and like Nadal, he barely avoided dropping the opening set. But he did just enough with his mostly defensive style to get past Dimitrov, who had eliminated Federer in a five-set quarterfinal.
‘‘I do think he was better player in first set. I do think I was kind of lucky to win it,’’ Medvedev said about Dimitrov. ‘‘Then the momentum changed completely. I think after, I was playing better than him in the next two sets.’’
The 6-foot-6-inch Medvedev hadn’t even been past the fourth round at a Slam until this one. He’s been the tour’s top player over the recent hard-court circuit, though, reaching three other finals on the surface. Medvedev has won 20 of his last 22 matches and leads the tour with 50 victories in 2019.
He drew all sorts of attention during Week 1 at the US Open. In his third-round victory, fans got on him for angrily snatching and tossing away a towel from a ballperson, then for holding up his middle finger against the side of his face. When they let him hear it at the end of the match, jeering loudly, he basked in it, asking for more noise and sarcastically thanking them. There was a similar display after his next win, too.
On Friday, the stands seemed to have more people pulling for Dimitrov than Medvedev, but once again, that didn’t matter.
At No. 78, Dimitrov was heading in the opposite direction, losing seven of his last eight matches before getting to New York. That’s why a player once ranked as high as No. 3 was down to No. 78, making him the lowest semifinalist at the US Open since 1991, when Jimmy Connors — who was in the stands Friday — was out of the top 150.
Dimitrov should have gone up a set early.
He was a point away while leading 6-5 as Medvedev served. But Medvedev played aggressively there, using a big forehand to get to the net and take that point, then turned to his guest box and barked something.
The ensuing tiebreaker was filled with errors by both, closing with a forehand into the net by Dimitrov and another that he sailed long.. . .
Top-seed Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah became the first Colombian men’s team to win the doubles title at the US Open, defeating Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos, 6-4, 7-5.
Cabal and Farah were already the first men’s doubles pairing from Colombia to win a Grand Slam trophy and to be ranked No. 1 after they won Wimbledon this year. They followed their Wimbledon championship with another strong run through the US Open and won their fifth doubles title of the season.
They became the sixth team to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year in the Open era.
Cabal and Farah celebrated Friday a year after they were knocked out in the semifinals by eventual champs Mike Bryan and Jack Sock.
. . .
The fourth-seeded team of Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka will play for the US Open women’s doubles title.
Mertens and Sabalenka rallied to beat Caroline Dolehide and Vania King, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. They advance to play Ash Barty and Victoria Azarenka for the championship on Sunday.
Barty won the women’s doubles title last year at Flushing Meadows with CoCo Vandeweghe.
Mertens and Sabalenka are trying to win their first Grand Slam title together, getting as far as the French Open semifinals this year.