Medvedev does not hate Clay no more


Red-hot Rune came all guns blazing in the rain-delayed final at Forzia Italia, but Medvedev was ready to slam back everything that was hurled at him by the pocket dynamo. The relentless Rune forced many break points in the first few games served by the tall ‘Russian without the flag’, but could not convert any of them into breaks. Daniil waited for his opportunity till the twelfth game, when Holger Rune, facing a break point, cheekily dropped one near the opponent’s service line, which the Russian retrieved with vigour and drove cross-courted with a vicious forehand. Set One went to Medvedev out of sheer perseverance, but this scuffle was by no means over.

Holger came back with vengeance and broke Daniil in the first game at love, then saved his serve without much ado. But it was obvious that while the Dane was not being able to force issues in longer rallies, Daniil was able to retrieve most drops with conviction. The Russian broke back in the fourth game to even scores, but was broken again in the very next. Rune failed to serve out the set at 5-4 when a wobbly backhand found the net.  Facing another break point at 5-5, 30-40, Medvedev hit an ace down the T, then served another big one at Rune’s backhand and somehow won the game. The Russian won the next three points on Holger’s serve to hold three break points, and converted the second one to wrap the game, set and match. What a victory this is for Daniil Medvedev- his Sixth Masters overall (all on different venues), and his first ever title on clay, and that the Italian Open, no less.

For a player who can keep returning balls till the end of time, Daniil Medvedev’s performances on clay have been quite underwhelming thus far. Till this year, he had not won a single match out of the three he had played at Rome, only one out of four at Madrid, and five out of eight at Monte Carlo. He had reached the final at Barcelona in 2019 though, by winning four consecutive matches, but has not played in Catalonia since. But in 2023, Daniil has managed to conquer Rome, played the quarter-final at Monte Carlo, and reached the fourth round at Madrid. This seems quite a turnaround of his fortunes on clay surfaces. Not one to mince words, Daniil used to ‘hate’ playing on clay where he felt uncomfortable, he argued. He cannot slide well on clay like some of his contemporaries, which hurts his own reach. He also tends to hit the balls a tad flatter with lesser topspin, which reduces the margin of error on his, yet allows the opponents to play near to the baseline and control the rallies using more angles. But over the past couple of years, Meddy has been making gradual progress on his least preferred of surfaces. He won his first match at the Roland Garros in 2021, and ending up playing the quarters. Even in 2022, he managed to reach the Round of 16. And now this career-defining victory at Rome over a rampaging Rune! This is his 20th title, 18 of them have been won on hard courts, and a solitary one on grass at Mallorca.

Medvedev had begun this year disastrously, losing to the Djoker in the semis at Adelaide, and to Sebastian Korda in the third round at the AO. He had fallen to Number 7 in the world, and looked quite out of sorts, before he turned it around with the title win at Rotterdam. He defeated Felix, Dimitrov and Sinner to claim the title, then went to Doha, where beat Felix again, and overcame Andy Murray to win the Qatar Open. He then tamed Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev at Dubai to complete the hattrick of titles. At the Indian Wells, Daniil beat Sascha Zverev, Fokina and Tiafoe enroute to final where the unstoppable Carlos Alcaraz halted his winning streak at 19 wins across three tournaments.  Medvedev regrouped after this loss, and took advantage of Sinner’s victory over Alcaraz to bag his fifth Masters at Miami. The Russian entered the clay season as the in-form player, what with four titles and a final under his belt.

With the win at Rome, Daniil has reclaimed the Number 2 ranking, with a listless Novak being pushed down to Number 3. This has opened up the possibility of Carlos Alcaraz and Djokovic falling in the same half of the draw, and opening up the other half for many contenders like Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Holger Rune, Sascha and now, even Daniil Medvedev. Meddy has beaten Sascha thrice this year, and Sinner and Felix twice. He has also prevailed once over Novak, Stefanos, Rublev and Rune. Barring Carlos Alcaraz, who must be considered as the overwhelming favourite to win the French Open, Medvedev has put one across all serious contenders.

For someone whose playing style was once dubbed as ‘boring’ by Tsitsipas, Daniil has impressive achievements to parade- One Grand Slam, One Year-End WTF, Six Masters and 20 titles overall. Overall he has played four Grand Slam finals, and has been World Number One for a total of 16 weeks. His twisting dance moves after defeating Tsitsipas in the semifinal at Rome indicate that he is mentally in a comfortable place, and that should ring warning bells among his probable opponents at the Roland Garros.

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