Stunning Performance Lifts Medvedev Into Paris Semifinals

WASHINGTON/PARIS, November 6, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The storyline coming into Friday’s first quarterfinal match at the Rolex Paris Masters between World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman and World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev was clear: Schwartzman would end the FedEx ATP Battle for London and debut at the Nitto ATP Finals if he defeated Medvedev. If … a big if.

As it turned out, Schwartzman would have to wait until later in the day to get his wish. That’s because he was unable to control his own destiny against Medvedev, who put on a silent but stunning, 62-minute performance in winning 6-3, 6-1 to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.

While the diminutive, 5-foot-7-inch Argentine Schwartzman had beaten World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals at Rome and World No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the Roland Garros quarterfinals after beginning his career 0-22 against Top 5 competition, Medvedev remained his nemesis; he had never defeated the 6-foot-6-inch, pencil-thin Russian slugger. And, after Friday, he still hasn’t found a way to beat Medvedev.

Although Medvedev came in 0-5 against Top 10 players over the past 12 months, he finally punched his way through this barrier and played some of his best tennis of the year. It served as a reminder of Medvedev’s remarkable 2019 run of great form, in which he reached six consecutive finals.

From the beginning in this intriguing matchup of contrasting Top 10 opponents, Medvedev broke Schwartzman’s service in the third and ninth games and had four easy holds, winning all but one of his first-serve points. He dropped only three points on serve during the 36-minute opening set.

Then, Medvedev broke Schwartzman to go ahead 3-1 in the second set on his third break-point opportunity of the fourth game. He hit a lunging forehand winner from deep near the baseline that Schwartzman was unable to lay his racquet on. Medvedev consolidated the break with another easy hold as the match reached the hour mark. It seemed no matter what Schwartzman tried – or said while shrugging his shoulders while looking at his team sitting in the front row behind the baseline – nothing seemed to be clicking for him on this afternoon.

Finally, Medvedev broke Schwartzman at love for an insurmountable 5-1 lead and served out the win at love with his eighth service ace – and 17th winner – ending the all-too-brief match. It was Medvedev’s 21st match victory of the pandemic-interrupted ATP Tour season.

The numbers didn’t fib in this one-sided contest: Medvedev finished with eight service aces to none for Schwartzman and the Russian won 96 percent (27 of 28) of his first-serve points, while Schwartzman mustered just 51 percent (18 of 35). Medvedev broke Schwartzman four times in six tries while he faced no break points from the Argentine, and lost just five points on his serve. Medvedev outpointed Schwartzman 58-31. Game, set, match.

“I think the most important [element] in our matchup is the serve,” Medvedev explained to Tennis TourTalk, “because I’m able to return a lot of balls in the court, putting pressure on him, and able to hit some aces. That’s the key, I think. …

“The level today was really good. So, that’s a level I want to be all the time, but it’s impossible in tennis. We have so many tournaments throughout the year. So, it always goes up and down a little bit. When you’re up, okay, that’s when you play good; you win matches. When you’re down, it’s important to get these matches, also win matches, which is not always easy.”

Schwartzman, whose win-loss record fell to 25-13, took his defeat in stride as he spoke to reporters about it afterward, at times in a self-deprecating tone of voice. “I was doing everything bad today. It can happen, but it’s disappointing,” he said smilingly.

“I arrive to the match playing good tennis, playing really good weeks before here, and nothing. [It] was a disappointing match. Now more than that, I have to not thinking about this match for many hours or days but I know that I did many things really bad today. You know, many mistakes. I was not solid; I was not [playing] defense. It was a really horrible match from my side.”

While Medvedev’s victory delayed Schwartzman from qualifying for London, the Argentine knew he could still secure his place if No. 9 seed Pablo Carreño Busta lost to top seed Rafael Nadal during the evening session. About six hours after Schwartzman’s match ended, he got his wish when Nadal beat Carreño Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

“Since I won yesterday, I’m just watching Pablo, because it’s the only opponent I have right now,” Schwartzman said of the Spaniard, who was the only remaining player with a mathematical chance at going to London as the eighth seed. However, Carreño Busta first would have to win Paris. Instead, Schwartzman can thank Nadal.

“Yeah, we were joking yesterday about the next tournament in Sofia, if he’s going to play or if he’s going to win this tournament. But, yeah, obviously I’m watching right now because I’m not anymore in the tournament, and today maybe I hope Rafa win,” Schwartzman said with a smile. He got his wish.

Big serving Raonic aces quarterfinal win over Humbert

In the second quarterfinal, all eyes in Paris were on unseeded 22-year-old Ugo Humbert. That’s because he was the lone remaining player from France in the singles draw that began the week with eight Frenchmen. As he took Court Central to play in his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, on the other side of the net was 2014 Paris finalist Milos Raonic of Canada.

While the No. 10 seed Raonic hasn’t won an ATP title since 2016 in Brisbane, Humbert has won two this year in his breakout year on tour – at Auckland in January and last month in Antwerp. In a battle of contrasting styles, Raonic prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) for his 23rd victory of the season.

The first set was all Raonic, whose nine service aces and 131 mph average first-serve speed kept Humbert on his toes. Raonic broke Humbert to go ahead 3-1, then made the Frenchman save five break points to hold his serve in the sixth game. The early break held steady as Raonic won the 39-minute opening set.

Then, Humbert rallied and took a 3-0 lead in the second set as he began to cut down on his errors and became more comfortable in his surroundings. As the match reached an hour, Humbert enjoyed a 4-2 lead and served it out to send the second quarterfinal to a decider.

Although the combatants were on serve through the first five games as Raonic served his 19th ace of the match to hold, the Canadian No. 2 had already faced and saved three break points in the final set, while Humbert did one better saving four for four. Raonic’s 22nd ace pushed him ahead 5-4 as only five points (81-76) separated the two, then he held for 6-5 as Humbert weakly netted a backhand return. Soon, Humbert hit an on-the-run forehand winner to send the match to a decisive tiebreak, where he was 14-5 in tiebreaks on the season.

Humbert finished an inside-out forehand for a winner that capped a 10-shot rally for a 2-0 lead. Raonic cut the lead to 2-1 when Humbert hit an errand return at the end of a 19-shot rally. Humbert increased his lead to 4-1 after Raonic committed his fourth double fault. Then, Raonic netted an easy backhand return that put Humbert in the driver’s seat, ahead 5-1. However, Raonic wasn’t ready to concede. An unforced error and consecutive aces by Raonic (No. 23 and 24) closed the deficit to 5-4. Humbert set up match point when Raonic hit a long forehand return, but Raonic finished off a tremendous 30-shot back-and-forth rally with a volley winner at the net.

Soon, Raonic pushed ahead 7-6 and gained a match point himself, but netted a backhand for 7-all. However, he gained another match point on an errant return by Humbert. Finally, Raonic took matters into his own hands and fired his 25th ace to secure victory after two hours and 18 minutes. In getting the job done, he went from being 1-5 down to becoming a 9-7 winner in the deciding tiebreak. Indeed, Raonic found a way to serve big when he needed against a very in-form Humbert – and it secured for him a very satisfying victory.

Raonic, who leads the ATP Tour in service aces, tallied 25 against just four double faults and won 75 percent (65 of 87) of his service points. He finished just one for 10 in break points won against Humbert, while outpointing his opponent 96-92.

Tennis TourTalk asked Raonic what went through his thought process as he navigated the peaks and valleys of the third-set tiebreak and what he learned about himself after this hard-fought win. “Yeah, you know, there is a lot to take with it,” he said. “Obviously the turnaround is short but the importance of sticking around.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that that match point is necessarily the way I want to be playing too many points that I saved in that long rally, but I just tried to stick with it as much as possible, tried to find a way through and got a bit fortunate, hit a few balls close to the line.

“You know, today it turned my way, but I’ve just got to keep plugging away. Doesn’t necessarily mean it always will but at least give it a chance for it to turn around.”

Raonic, 29, gave Humbert, seven years his junior, props during his virtual press conference. “The past few weeks he’s played well,” he said. “I think he just needs the consistency. He’s not an easy guy to play, by any means. I think with maturity and, you know, I think he’s playing the right way. I think he can continue to move up much more.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Humbert what positive points he came away with after playing in his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal, he said, “I played four good matches. Today, it’s a little hard to find the words. I was really not far from making my first semifinal in Masters 1000. I still produced a good level of play.”

As Raonic looked ahead to his semifinal against Medvedev, he admitted, “I’m just happy with the level I’m playing and trying to really fight through and to, you know, have another opportunity tomorrow.”

Nadal keeps title hopes alive with comeback win

Pablo Carreño Busta came into his quarterfinal match against top seed Rafael Nadal 0-6 lifetime – including 0-4 on clay and 0-2 on outdoor hard courts. After Friday evening’s latest attempt against the World No. 2 , he’s 0-7 – but not for a lack of trying. The top seed in Bercy rallied for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over No. 9 seed Carreño Busta that was his 22nd straight victory against Spaniard opponents going back to 2016.

Nadal won 81 percent (42 of 52) first-serve points and saved four of five break points while breaking Carreño Busta three times in seven opportunities. Nadal outpointed his opponent 97-79 and will play No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the quarterfinal round.

At first, the 15th-ranked Carreño Busta looked and played fearless and determined against the World No. 2 Nadal. With an outside chance remaining alive for a Nitto ATP Finals berth riding on the outcome, Carreño Busta took the opening set 6-4 by winning 80 percent (16 of 20) of his first-serve points as he faced no break points. He broke Nadal to go ahead 4-3 and won the 42-minute opening set.

It wasn’t until Carreño Busta’s ninth service game – in the 18th game of the match after an hour and 20 minutes of play – that he faced his first break points. He saved the first with his third service ace and fought off the second with a forehand winner that Nadal guess wrong on. Then, Carreño Busta held serve by hitting a volley winner at the net that finished a five-shot rally. However, the Spaniard’s luck ran out when Nadal broke him for the first time in the match during the 12th game with a brilliant forehand, down-the-line passing shot to win the second set 7-5.

After one hour and 41 minutes, the match was all even in sets and only two points separated the two competitors, with Nadal ahead 68-66. It was that close.

However, in the final set, Nadal broke Carreño Busta at love to go ahead 3-1, and he consolidated the break with his seventh ace. It seemed Carreño Busta had hit a wall where he couldn’t win any points. The wheels came off in the next game as Nadal broke again for a 5-1 advantage. Soon, he served out the last game to garner his 25 victory in 30 matches this season. He outpointed Carreño Busta 29-13 in the third set and won the final five games of the two hour and 13-minute match.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Nadal how he turned around a match that at first was not going well for him, he said: “Well, I think he started playing well. The problem was he was winning his serves too comfortable, no? I was not able to return enough well, to create problems on him.

“So then, when you feel that you are not suffering on your serve you are able to play with more freedom, more relaxed on the returns, play more aggressive, and I think that was the problem tonight, no?

“Of course I have to give him a lot of credit that he did a lot of things very well, played very aggressive.

“But talking about my side, that’s the thing that really matters to me, I need to return better, no? My serve is working well, I think, so the rest of the game more or less I am playing better and better.

“I need to return better if I want to have chances to keep going.”

Zverev beats Wawrinka for 11th straight victory

In the final quarterfinal match, World No. 7 Alexander Zverev put his 10-match winning streak on the line against No. 12 Stan Wawrinka, who was playing his last tournament of the year in Paris. The fourth seed Zverev came into their match with an unblemished 3-0 win-loss record against Wawrinka. With his 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory in one hour and 25 minutes, he’s now 4-0. Zverev rallied from down 3-5 in the second set to send the match to a tiebreak. It’s there where Zverev came alive to dominate matters, winning the first five points that helped to quickly decide the outcome.

Now, Zverev (28-9) is into his third straight semifinal – his first at Bercy – and going after his third title since reaching the final of the US Open. He will face top seed Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s second semifinal.

Each victory over the 20th-ranked Swiss has been significant to Zverev’s growth. First, Zverev won his first career title and ended Wawrinka’s 11-final win streak at St. Petersburg in 2016. Then, Zverev spoiled Wawrinka’s 32nd brithday to reach his first ATP Masters quarterfinal at Miami in 2017. Finally, Zverev advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal when he beat Wawrinka at the Australian Open earlier this year.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Zverev what he was most proud of after his latest victory against Wawrinka, he said: “Well, I mean, I think today was a much better level for me than yesterday, but even though yesterday’s opponent (Adrian Mannarino) is very difficult as well.

“To play against Stan you always have to play your best. We all know what he’s capable of. We all know he’s capable of beating the best players in the world. To have a chance against him you have to play at your best. I feel like I was close to that today.”

The 23-year-old German won 80 percent (37 of 46) of his first-serve points, saved two of four break points and broke Wawrinka, 35, four times in four tries.

Wawrinka, who finished the season 22-9, was asked by Tennis TourTalk if there were positives from the week to take home with him. He said: Yeah, I think from the week there is some positive for me, from my game, from the level. I think it was great to play a few matches at the highest level than I played last few months. 

“Playing Zverev, playing Rublev, playing Evans, Paul, I feel that I’m playing better. For me that’s what I needed to get more matches at that level. 

“Tonight, [I] had some chance. I didn’t play the way I wanted, didn’t find my game. I didn’t stay calm when I could turn the match, and, yeah, that’s why I lost.”

Around the AccorHotels Arena

While much of the focus centered on the singles quarterfinals taking place inside near-empty Court Central, the doubles quarterfinals garnered attention on quaint Court 1 throughout Friday, one match after another.

First, unseeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Hubert Hurkacz from Poland upset No. 7 seeds John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand by winning in a third-set super tiebreak 11-9 for a 4-6, 7-5, 11-9 victory. Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz have reached the quarterfinals or better in both tournaments they’ve played in this year.

Then, like the first quarterfinal, the second one between No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo from Brazil and No. 5 seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahout, both from France, was decided by a third-set super tiebreak that went in favor of the Polish/Brazilian team. Kubot and Melo won 6-7 (4), 6-3, 10-8, to improve to 21-10 and it clinched them a berth at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. They will face Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz in Saturday’s semifinal round in Paris.

Later, the third quarterfinal was won by No. 8 seeds Austrian Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, who defeated Rohan Bopanna of India and Oliver Marach of Austria, 6-0, 7-6 (6), for their 20th victory this year and advanced to their fourth semifinal of the season. They will face No. 2 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil, who earned their 19th victory of the season by beating No. 6 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic from Croatia, 6-1, 7-6 (4). The US Open champions are into their third semifinal of 2020.

Click here for Friday’s results