Daniil Medvedev climbed up to the fourth spot in the ATP rankings after a run of form over the last couple of months that saw him make four successive finals. What is it about Medvedev that makes him such an exciting prospect for the future?
“The more you will do this, the more I will win; for you guys. I want all of you to know when you sleep tonight, I won because of you.”
These were the words from Daniil Medvedev to a booing New York crowd after a contentious third round win against Feliciano Lopez. This was followed by fines of $4,000 for visible obscenity (at the crowd), and $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct (involving throwing a towel towards an official). This sounds like the story of a “villain of tennis”, and so he was two weeks ago.
But, today, Russia’s Medvedev is looked back upon as the find of the North American hard court season, and perhaps the one we expect the most from in the near future.
While the Next Gen did not win any Grand Slams this year, three of the four majors saw a strong run by a non-Big Three member; Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open, Dominic Thiem at the French Open and Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.
While Tsitsipas and Thiem will be remembered for defeating Federer and Djokovic respectively, Medvedev’s season thus far, particularly his hard court run and his phenomenal comeback at the US Open final standout without doubt.
A postmortem of the last eight and months reveals that while the majors were won by Djokovic (two) and Nadal (two), and the Wimbledon final between Djokovic and Federer was probably the most spoken about match of the year, the Next Gen was not that far behind on certain metrics.
For starters, the Masters 1000s (and smaller tournaments like the ATP 500s, 250s) are no longer the ‘Big Three’ show.
Of the seven Masters 1000s held thus far this year, four have been won by the Big Three, one by Fabio Fognini (who does not qualify in either group) and two, who are expected to be front-runners for the changing of the guards, Dominic Thiem (Indian Wells) and Daniil Medvedev (Cincinnati).
These were not easy wins with Thiem defeating Federer in the final and Medvedev defeating Djokovic in the semi-finals.
23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev has been one of the biggest success stories of 2019 on the ATP circuit.
He ended a good 2018 season, ranked number 16, and was one of the many players to look out for in 2019. While many of the younger generation has had their ebbs and flows this season (and so did Medvedev), the young Russian leaves us with the most to expect going into the last two months of the season, as well as looking forward to 2020.
Medvedev’s year began with a good showing at Brisbane, where although he lost to Kei Nishikori in the final, he had a stunning run in the tournament defeating Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He was seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time ever at the Australian Open, and while he took a backseat to the Stefanos Tsitsipas run in Melbourne, his performance in the fourth round against Novak Djokovic stood out.
He maintained his confidence and form through ‘Frantic February” winning his fourth ATP title at Sofia and being a semi-finalist at the ATP 500 at Rotterdam.
“I was the better player today and I deserved to win, this title gives me a lot of confidence”, said a beaming Medvedev, as he continued adding to his title count from last year.
As the clay season kicked off, Medvedev got off to a better than expected start making the semi-finals of Monte Carlo, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas and world number one Novak Djokovic en route, and followed it up with a finalist showing at the Barcelona ATP 500 next week also on clay.
What followed was a disappointing five-match losing streak through most of the clay season, including the French Open.
The Russian hit better form on grass, making the semi-finals of the Queen’s Club ATP 500, but a semi-final defeat to veteran Giles Simon, and a third round defeat after being up against David Goffin at Wimbledon made for a slightly underwhelming end to it.
Medvedev entered the North American hard court swing having just broken into the Top 10, and chances were that he would be able to hold on to his ranking, given his comfort with the surface. What followed was unprecedented and has put Medvedev considerably ahead of the field for now, second only to the collective ‘Big Three’ at the moment.
“We all know how Nick can play when he wants to win; this week, I think he wanted to play, and it was tough”, were Medvedev’s words when he ended as runner-up at the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington DC, losing in two tie-breakers to Nick Kyrgios.
The Russian followed it up by defeating Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov at the ATP 1000 in Montreal, before capitulating to Rafael Nadal in a one-sided final. Medvedev followed this the next week by winning his first ever Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, defeating world number one Novak Djokovic on the way.
“To finally lift the trophy this week is an amazing feeling. I need some days off, I have been playing tennis for so long in a row. I just need to stay in the bed for a few days watching the TV 24 hours a day.” Medvedev’s phenomenal run at three consecutive tournaments put him in the top five of the ATP rankings, and he came into New York as a ‘fourth favorite’ after the Big Three.
The Russian had a roller-coaster ride of all sorts at the US Open. The effects of the past three tournaments began to show as he suffered from cramps in his second round, but pulled through before his controversial Lopez encounter alluded to earlier.
“I was so tired, I was cramping, it was tough on me”, acknowledged the Russian, who began to raise doubts on whether he had enough left in him to make it through the fortnight.
By now, he was getting on the wrong side of the New York crowds as well; something one does not want to do, even if one is the number one player in the world.
Medvedev came from a set behind to defeat a German qualifier in the fourth round, much to the dislike of the New York crowd, who by now looked upon him as the ‘new villain of tennis’.
“I just decided to do something special my first quarterfinal, because I saw some comments already that some people think it was against the crowd. It was not at all. It was just showing how happy I was to be in the quarters”.
Injuries and muscular strains showed up in both his quarter-finals against Stanislas Wawrinka, and semi-finals against Grigor Dimitrov. But, the Medvedev juggernaut continued and with some pleasant and kind words from the bottom of his heart, one began to wonder if he was in fact neutralizing the crowd.
Love or hate, like or dislike (and believe or not!), Daniil Medvedev was in the final of the US Open and aiming to be the first Russian man to win a major since Marat Safin at Melbourne in 2005.
He was in a fourth consecutive final, facing Rafael Nadal who was himself looking at inching closer to history with a 19th major title. The young Russian ensured a number four ranking on the ATP tour and also qualified for the year end ATP Tour Finals in London.
Medvedev brought a solid level of play to the final, and was competitive for the first two sets, but unfortunately for him, Nadal was playing the bigger points better and when he broke Medvedev in the third set, it looked like it was only a matter of time before the Spaniard completed a straight set win.
A stunning comeback followed.
The Russian increased the aggression, played a faster game, kept the points shorter, and broke the world number twice to take the set 7-5 and take the match into an unlikely fourth set. Medvedev maintained the level of play winning the fourth set and in a seesaw fifth set where the Russian had his chances, finally lost 4-6 to give Nadal his 19th major title.
While Nadal had won the US Open, Medvedev with his brilliance through the hard court season making four finals (only matched by Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi), had won over tennis fans, enthusiasts and pundits. A gracious speech from the heart after the final even won over the now ‘not so angry’ New York crowd. The level of play exhibited over the last month and a half (and to a great extent most of the season) has left Medvedev as the one to watch out for.
“It is an amazing story. All this summer is amazing for me. I will remember every moment of it. I have a really good memory if we talk about tennis. I will definitely remember it even when I am, like, 70 years old.”
This is how Medvedev described his American summer.
The rest of the season is primarily on hard courts and indoor surfaces through the Asian and European swing leading to the Tour Finals. Medvedev will fancy his chances at getting his hands on more titles, and potentially getting as close as possible to the number three ranking (depending on how much more Roger Federer plays this season).
With a big serve, excellent court coverage, strong on both wings, and great hands at the net for someone 6’6”, a great future and career lies ahead for the young Russian.
Having shown the ability to maintain an even keel even in challenging times, Medvedev is definitely one that will be a tough customer not only for the rest of Next Gen in 2020 and the years to come, but also for the Big Three here on.
One can only hope he consolidates, improvises and stays as healthy as can be.