International Blog – Michael Dickens
One of the cardinal rules of sports journalism is “no cheering in the press box.” But just this once, I could live with the shame.
Early Sunday evening, as I watched Daniil Medvedev win his first ATP Masters 1000 singles title, on his second try, at the Western & Southern Open – after he fired a brilliant ace on match point that stunned his opponent, David Goffin, and left him motionless – I cheered. Mind you, I was watching the ESPN broadcast of the Medvedev-Goffin final on a 36-inch flat-screen TV, seated next to my wife, in the comfort of the living room in our home near Washington, D.C., some 496 miles (798 kilometers) away from Center Court.
After firing three consecutive laser-quick aces, each one more packed with more intensity than the previous one, there was no euphoria in Medvedev’s reaction after he won. There was no emphatic, chest-pumping roar like Novak Djokovic might have displayed, and no collapsing on the court like Rafael Nadal seems to do every time he wins the French Open. Had either of these Grand Slam greats won Sunday night, I suspect their reaction would have been very different than Medvedev’s. Instead, the young 23-year-old Russian could barely raise his arms to celebrate a lifetime accomplishment that winning his maiden Masters 1000 represented.
After playing 16 matches in 20 days – feeling mentally tired and reaching the brink of physical exhaustion – after the culmination of three weeks of dominance with his Cincinnati Masters victory, Medvedev simply wore a blank stare on his face as he approached the net to accept congratulations from Goffin, his fallen opponent. Then, he raised his hands in celebration, tapped his racquet and waved to acknowledge the applause of the appreciative Center Court crowd of 11,400 fans who packed the house at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
In an on-court interview with ESPN’s Brad Gilbert that preceded the trophy ceremony, Medvedev finally broke out a smile. When asked how he felt after winning, Medvedev quipped, “I’ve been playing for so many days in a row, I just need to stay in bed and watch TV for 24 hours a day. I hope to get to the U.S. Open feeling fresh.”
What a three-week run it’s been for Medvedev on the North American hard court swing, leading up to the U.S. Open. When he beat Goffin 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the championship final, it capped a tremendous run of in-form tennis. The Moscow native won 13 of 14 matches in straight sets, and came from a set behind to stun World No. 1 Djokovic. He scrapped his second serve midway through the match and went for broke with every serve – first or second. Why not? It didn’t matter, it just seemed right to him – and it worked.
After reaching three consecutive finals – at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, and, finally, at the Cincinnati Masters in suburban Mason, Ohio – Medvedev has earned his chance to rest and refocus, if only for just a few days. After all, New York City beckons and the final Grand Slam of the year, the U.S. Open, begins on Monday.
“In Russia we say ‘who doesn’t risk, doesn’t drink champagne’. So I’m drinking champagne tonight,” said Medvedev during his final Cincinnati news conference Sunday evening.
“If you would have asked me before the tournament how would I celebrate, I’d probably say that I’m going to fall on the court, I’ll start screaming and jumping and then raising my hands up.
“I was so exhausted during all the match, to be honest. And especially at 5-3, I started cramping everywhere. Of course I tried to not show it. This last game, at 15-40, I cramped everywhere. And then I made four amazing serves. When I hit the last one, I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s finished’. And I had no, zero force inside of me to do anything. It is how it is.”
Medvedev began August ranked No. 10 and seeded ninth at the Citi Open. It’s where I caught up with the rising star. Not only did I get to see him play up close, but I also sat in on his press conference sessions that followed both his quarterfinal win over Marin Cilic and his finals loss to titlist Nick Kyrgios. On both occasions, first after a satisfying victory, then an hour after a disappointing defeat, I found Medvedev to be both charming and affable – and his character is very likable. Oh, he’s quite tall, too – standing six-feet-six (1.97 m) in his sneakers – as he looks down upon everyone with a smile.
During his news conferences, Medvedev took all kinds of questions from the Citi Open media and answered them politely and thoughtfully – sometimes even matter-of-factly. If you close your eyes as you listen to Medvedev, you can’t detect whether he’s won or lost a match.
After Medvedev beat Cilic, 6-4, 7-6 (7), he was asked if he would show a different mentality or put any extra pressure on himself after cracking the Top 10. His response spoke volumes about him. He said, “No, I try to do everything as I did before to become the Top 10: hard work, just try to win. I always said my first goal is to win every match I play This doesn’t change. … If I play good, if I manage to win matches, I’m going to be higher.”
Medvedev was asked by a reporter if he could point to a moment in which he changed his match preparation in order to elevate his game. “Two years ago, I started to take tennis more seriously, started to dedicate my life to tennis, like really do everything I can to be better on the tennis court, and of course it took some time,” he said. “It cannot work in one week. So, I think when I started to win a lot of titles and play really consistent, that’s when it started to pay off.”
Another he lost the Citi Open final to Kyrgios, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), a reporter asked Medvedev about setting goals for himself. He said: “My first goal, I always say this, is to win every match I play not matter if it’s a first round or final. Because to get to the final, you need to win every match you play before.
“So, my first goal is to win every match I play. That’s how you can get points, and that’s how you can get money, and that’s how you can go up the rankings. So, that’s the main goal for me. … I would be happy if I will be in the Masters in the end of the year, but I will not think about it too much. I will take match by match.”
Looking back on his latest career accomplishment – a breakthrough Masters 1000 title victory on the eve of the U.S. Open, which has lifted his world ranking to No. 5 and will give him a coveted high seed – Medvedev put things into proper perspective. Then, he allowed himself some time to celebrate with his wife Daria, in which a widely-seen photograph splashed across the ATP Tour website showed the young couple exchanging a polite kiss while seated inside the men’s locker room with his coach, Gilles Cervara, and the Cincinnati Masters trophy, a unique piece of Rockwood pottery given to the winner of the oldest tennis tournament in the United States still played in its original city, nearby. Medvedev was still attired in his Lacoste match kit.
“I have to say even if I wouldn’t have finished with the trophy, these weeks were amazing and the best in my life,” Medvedev admitted. “But of course I think with the trophy it is better. Especially if I would have lost three finals in a row, I would not have doubted myself but started asking how is it possible? Three finals and I lost all of them? What should I do differently in the final?
“I don’t have to ask myself these questions. It’s been the best week in my life. Mentally it was the best in my life. My serve was the best in my life. My tennis was really consistent. I didn’t have one bad match. I’m just extremely happy. And hopefully I can continue this way well through all my career but hopefully at least the next few weeks.”
Indeed, it’s been the best week of Medvedev’s life – and it’s pretty cool he got to celebrate it with his wife and coach, both whom have been by his side, along for the joyous journey together. What could be better than that? Some day, maybe it will all turn into a lovely film, complete with a happy, Hollywood ending. Thanks to his Masters 1000 title triumph, Medvedev is definitely in the mix – timing is everything in tennis – and he can’t wait for the U.S. Open to begin.