Daniil Medvedev is achieving supreme levels of consistency. The quarter-final win over his good friend Rublev was his 19th straight one on the tour. Incredibly, he is 11-0 against top-10 players since USO 2020. Medvedev had earlier enjoyed such consistency during and after the North American hard-court swing in 2019, when he had reached six consecutive finals including the US Open, and had won the Cincinnati and the Shanghai Masters.
His victory over the 7th seed Alexi Rublev in straight sets took him 4-0 up in their head-to-head matches. Astoundingly, in the ten sets that the two have played so far, Rublev is yet to take even one off Medvedev. Daniil also achieved his first fifth set (in seven attempts) success with his win over Krajinovic in the Round of 16. After playing successive final and semi-final at the USO, he has now managed to enter the AO semi-final for the first time. Meddy Bear seems to be on the cusp of something big, the next leap, possibly a Slam!
Rublev was never expected to match Daniil in the key match. The lad plays with a lot of heart but only has one gear and a single plan. Against anyone who has shades and stripes in his game, and can improvise, Rublev is found wanting. Alexi plays his own game, rather than his opponents’, and that makes him a sitting duck against fancied players in crunch matches. That apart, his body language after dropping the first set becomes too alert and stiff, and hurts his power play. This quite explains his four QF defeats, and zero semi-final appearances!
Medvedev now plays Stefanos Tsitsipas who came back from the dead to overcome Rafa in a classic QF. The Russian and the Greek have had bitter arguments in the past, and seem to resent each other. Meddy Bear once lost his nuts over a toilet break taken by Tsitsipas, who on his return hit one touching the net, refused to apologize for the ‘let’, and made some mean comment to go with it. The Russian went berserk, gave Stef a verbal bashing, and had to be restrained.
Stef finds the Russian style of play as boring- someone who serves big, and keeps returning everything back from behind the baseline, and has made this known in a press conference. “No one takes him seriously”, retorted Medvedev, when asked for his views on the Greek, “not after he declared that he was forced to drink after the Lavers’ Cup celebrations.”
“Every player can say something nasty about another player. If it has to be trash talk, it will be trash talk,” declared Daniil. Medvedev won the first five matches that the duo played against each other. But the Greek won the last time they had played at the Nitto WTF in 2019. “I don’t hate him,” Tsitsipas later clarified, “but we don’t get along well.” Medvedev has taken the ‘boring’ jibe to his heart, and does not aim to get over this slight. Some motivational technique, maybe!
The point being that there is no love lost between Medvedev and Tsitsipas, and the semi-final promises to be a high octane battle. Both serve big, but Tsitsipas is not a regular acer, or impossible to return to. Stefanos does not possess any specific non-negotiable shot that might bleed the Russian dry. In fact, his single-handed backhand may prove to be the Achilles’ heel that Medvedev might be looking at. Daniil’s defence is solid and predictable. 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. His opponents find that they have run into a ‘wall’ which returns everything that is hurled at it, and doesn’t yield an inch of advantage. Added to this, he shoots his first serves in the north of 130 mph and with remarkable efficiency. 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 dangerous. That apart, the capability to channelize his anger, and improvise gives him the edge. Madvedev still blows hot and cold, but does not let that affect his game. His inside-out forehand has become more venomous. Backhands have become more reliable over last couple of years. Fitness is admittedly better, although he conceded that his left leg had begun cramping towards the end of the QF. (and that was just the third set !)
Meddy Bear played a nerve-wrecking, heart-breaking final against Nadal at the Flushing Meadows in 2019. Djokovic has always found him a tricky customer to negotiate, their head-to-head being 4-3 in Novak’s favour. But Medvedev has won last three of their four encounters at the Nitto WTF 2020, Cincinnati and Monte Carlo in 2019. Djokovic overcame his challenge in four sets in the AO 2019, and last year defeated him at the ATP Cup. The Serbian Champion knows that Medvedev is not overawed by reputations and keeps coming back with vengeance. With the fitness issues that he is facing, Novak might find Meddy Bear a tad hot to handle.
Medvedev is all set to surpass Thiem as the new World Number 3 on Monday. Since Rafa has lost in the QF, Medvedev would claim the No.2 spot if he manages to reach the final. The AO trophy, that is the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, might provide further motivation, and head Russia’s way, if luck smiles and Daniil keeps his nerves.
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