US Open 2019: Why Daniil Medvedev Can End the “Big 3” Dominance

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With two ATP titles, four finals and three semifinals, Daniil Medvedev has been the envy of the Tour this season. Last Sunday, the Russian capped off a stunning month by clinching the Cincinnati Masters title, his first Masters 1000 triumph, which came after a thrilling 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 win over Belgium’s David Goffin in the final. The victory not only propelled the 23-year-old to a career high ATP ranking of No. 5 but also made him the talk of the town ahead of the U.S. Open.

The Russian deserves every bit of attention that he is receiving, having reached three finals in three weeks, starting with the runner-up finish against Nick Kyrgios at the Washington Open, followed by another runner-up finish against Rafael Nadal at Rogers Cup in Montreal (also a Masters 1000 event), before finally getting his hands around the shield in Cincinnati.

Following the final, Cincy runner-up Goffin said playing against Medvedev is like playing against “a wall,” and that’s precisely what the Russian has been like over the last few weeks – having an answer to almost every question asked of him on a tennis court.

Add to that the ability to serve big and on the money, and you are looking at a player with all the ammunition needed to threaten the field.

With 44 wins, Medvedev leads the Tour for most wins in 2019, three ahead of Nadal. And just like last year, he has once again dominated the hard courts, leading the Tour with 31 wins. In 2018, he was the leader with 38 wins on the surface, which included three titles.

The “Big 3” Dominance

Can Medvedev carry his form to New York and be the last man standing on September 8? Given his form, one cannot rule out that possibility, but when it comes to majors it’s hard to look beyond the “Big Three”.

The last time someone other than Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic won a Grand Slam was Stan Wawrinka, who clinched the U.S. Open title in 2016; since then the top three have split 11 majors among them and there is a very high possibility that there won’t be any deviation from the trend this year at Flushing Meadows.

That said, the U.S. Open has been one tournament where players other than the Big 3 have fancied their chances. There have been seven different champions in the past 11 years and that includes a victory for Marin Cilic over Kei Nishikori in one of the most unexpected finals in 2014.

Roger Federer Will Hope to Add to his Five US Open Titles
Roger Federer Will Hope to Add to his Five US Open Titles. Photo Credit: Samir Talwar

No.3 Federer, who was the undisputed king of Flushing Meadows from 2004 to 2008, is yet to add to his tally of five U.S. Open titles. Can he win his 21st Grand Slam on a surface where he last won 11 years ago?

Given his endurance and passion for the game, he still remains a huge threat, but if there was to be one top favorite it has to be the No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic, the man who stole victory from jaws of defeat against the Swiss legend in that epic Wimbledon final this year.

It will also be interesting to see if Federer has recovered yet from that heartache inflicted by the Serb who has dominated the majors over the last one year and looks poised to defend his title and add to his 16 majors.

Since the start of Wimbledon 2018, Djokovic has won 33 of the 34 matches at grand slams and it will take a special performance to end the 32-year-olds dominance.

If Federer finds a way to reach the final four he may get a chance to avenge his Wimbledon defeat against the man he hasn’t defeated in their last four meetings. Not that the two have collided too often on the Tour of late, but Federer’s last win over the Serb came at the ATP Finals in 2015.

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So the odds will be heavily stacked in favor of Djokovic to advance to the final where he could be against another legend, Rafael Nadal, who comes into the tournament in tremendous form having breezed to the final in Canada (notwithstanding that first set against Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinal), before decimating Medvedev and defending his title.

The 33-year-old king of clay doesn’t mind playing on hard courts either, and has won three U.S. Open titles, with the most recent of his successes coming in 2017. If there is one player who could be a serious threat to Djokovic’s title defence it is the Spaniard, who could be sitting one behind Federer in the list of most major triumphs if he goes on to lift the trophy.

The Other Contenders

While the focus will remain on the “Big Three”, there will be others looking to break into their closely guarded territory. Could it be No.4 Dominic Thiem, who isn’t an outsider at grand slams any more, having reached back-to-back finals at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019?

The Austrian hasn’t been in best of forms of late (despite winning an ATP Tour 250 series title at home) and comes into the tournament having exited from the first round at Wimbledon this year (not very encouraging!)

But the 25-year-old will take confidence from the fact that he was a dominant force in the first half of the season, which also saw him land a first Masters 1000 title, when he defeated Federer in the final at Indian Wells. How far is he from his first Grand Slam? He is closing in for sure, but it seems unlikely to happen this year.

Could it be one of the Next Gen stars then? As has been the case over the last couple of years, No. 6 Alexander Zverev will attract a lot of attention, but this season’s been a real struggle for the German and he will have to lift the quality of his game considerably if he has any aspirations of reaching his first semis at a Grand Slam.

So who can carry the hopes of the Next Gen stars? Stefanos Tsitsipas would definitely like to replicate his Australian Open performance where he reached the semifinals, beating Federer on the way. The No. 8 seed Greek, who was also knocked out of the first round of the Wimbledon, will be a player to watch out for, despite not having the greatest of times on the hard courts of North America.

His biggest challenge, however, comes in the first round itself, when he faces Andrey Rublev, the Russian who conquered Federer in Cincinatti a few days ago.

That brings us back to the man in scintillating form, Daniil Medvedev, whose first goal will be to reach at least his first major quarterfinal. Will he be tired from his exploits over the last month? Does he have the temperament to go deep in a major?

Can he play with the same consistency in bigger events that he shows in the lower level tournaments? All these questions will be answered over the next two weeks.

One thing he has done well this year is he’s shown more maturity. The Russian, who first featured in a singles main draw in 2016, has previously been pulled up a few times for infamous on-court meltdowns, which included disrespectful altercations with chair umpires, one of which led to his disqualification mid-match in 2016.

Then at the Wimbledon in 2017, he was seen distastefully throwing coins towards the umpire’s chair after his second round exit, for which he apologized later, but then again in 2018, he earned notoriety after his ugly on-court spat with Tsitsipas at the Miami Open.

Medvedev, however, has stayed clear of any such ugly incident this year and could well have benefitted from that.

While the Russian will have his task cut out against the usual suspects, there will be another player he wouldn’t want to face and that is No. 28 Nick Kyrgios, who has beaten Medvedev on both their previous meetings this year.

Being in different halves means they can only meet in the final (a highly unlikely scenario). While Medvedev can definitely make a deeper run, it will be a surprise if Kyrgios goes past the Round of 16. Well, it all depends on the Aussie’s mood, though!

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