Anger seems deeply rooted inside Daniil Medvedev. Whether it comes from being born in the Yeltsin era of the Russian shame, one cannot say. Occasional venting used to give him much grief earlier. Eruptions from this man mountain of six-foot-six used to mirror Putin’s Russia – sporadic ,shocking and disruptive.
In 2016, at a Challenger tournament in the US , he accused an Afro-American umpire of being partial in favour of Donald Young because of their racial similarity. Daniil was duly defaulted from the match . During his second round loss at the Wimbledon in 2017, Medvedev repeatedly insulted the umpire and even threw coins towards her chair. He was fined USD 14500, and received wide condemnation.Both the umpires happened to be women.He was tumbling downhill on the same track as Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic.
But Medvedev seems to have learnt how to channelize his anger into getting better results on tennis courts. As the scoreline stood at 3-6,3-3,0-30 versus Djokovic in their Cincinnati semi-final last week, the Russian felt lost and tired . Novak was crushing his second serves. Then suddenly, Daniil began serving out monster second serves at 125- 128 mph , which Novak found too hot to handle, even as Daniil went for winners on every shot with remarkable accuracy. It was as if he had sprung back to life. He saved his serve by bombing three aces in the next four points (one on his second serve),broke Nole in the next game,won this set and then the next, to enter his third final in as many weeks.
In the final versus Goffin, he was a set and a break up, and serving for the match when at 15-40 , he started cramping and felt dizzy. Three aces later, he had won his first Masters title. Improvising and ‘going for the broke’ in tough situations is the hallmark of a great champion – legends are waiting to be inscribed.
In their third round Wimbledon clash in 2018,Daniil was down two sets versus Mannarino ,when out of the blue, he began serving from near the alley,rather than the traditional T to ‘shake things a little bit’ since his opponent was returning his regular serves well. Medvedev won the next two sets, and although he lost the decider and the match, the ‘unpredictably dangerous’ tag was duly suffixed after his name.
Medved in Russian means a bear. Daniil’s defence is as solid and predictable as one. His flat accurate double-handed backhands fall deep and keep low, and his forehands are remarkably flat and rapier –like. The backhands might not be spectacular , but they do not allow his opponents to gain any swinging room. Goffin found he had run into a ‘wall’ which returned everything that was hurled and didn’t yield an inch of advantage. Medvedev is remarkably consistent in his defense . Added to this , he shoots his first serves in the north of 130 mph and with remarkable efficiency .This combo game of wall and bombers helps Medvedev in easily overcoming less fancied opponents. Against better players and in adverse conditions, Daniil starts firing in his second serves at more than 125mp, and that is where he gets very,very dangerous.
As Novak and his fans can well recall, the Russian refuses to back down and keeps coming back at you. The eventual champion played his toughest match at the Australian Open 2019 against Daniil in the fourth round. Novak managed to prevail in four sets, but only by the skin of his teeth. Medvedev then defeated Novak at Monte Carlo in May. Nole’s Cincinnati loss does not come as a shock, rather confirms the worst fears of his fans- they know the Russian has got his number. Best of five at a Grand Slam might be a trickier preposition, but given his current form and overall improvement in fitness, movement and ground strokes, Daniil must be the favourite to prevail if they happen to spar.
Medvedev has already played three finals in the month of August . He didn’t lose his serve ,but lost the City Open(Washington) final to Nick Kyrgios . Enroute to the final, he beat Cilic and Tiafoe. In the final of the Roger’s Cup (Montreal) , he received a thrashing at the hands of Rafael Nadal, but defeated Kachanov and Theim in earlier rounds. It was at Cincinnati that Medvedev finally broke the barrier. He overcame Rublev, Djokovic and Goffin to win his first Masters 1000 title, and reached his highest ATP ranking at Number 5.
As things stand, Daniil Medvedev Vs Rafael Nadal must be the match to watch out for,at whatever stage ( F or SF) it happens. Rafa handed Daniil a bagel at Montreal. Novak would do well to avoid the Russian altogether and hope that either of Rafa, Roger or Nick takes care of him. Theim,Khanachov , Sascha Zverev and Tsitsipas do not seem to be in their best of forms. One can never count Roger out, and Nick being Nick can beat anyone when he behaves. But it would be safe to predict three semi-final certainties – Medvedev, Rafa and Novak, with the Russian being my pick to lift the US Open 2019.
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