Medvedev: From Villain To Quietly Racing Through The US Open Draw

Daniil Medvedev (photo: Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

While Novak Djokovic‘s five-set 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 semifinal victory over Alexander Zverev Friday night moved him to within one victory of pulling off an astonishing calendar-year Grand Slam – winning all four majors in a single year – earlier in the day, second-seeded Daniil Medvedev quietly but efficiently went about the business of advancing to his second US Open final in three years with a straight-set 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 win against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

On Sunday afternoon, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 players will meet for the 2021 US Open men’s singles title. The final is scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium at 4 p.m. local time (9 p.m. London, 10 p.m. Central European).

Two years ago, when the then-23-year-old Russian reached his first major final at the US Open before losing a tough and grueling, five-set heartbreaker to Rafael Nadal, he embraced the role of villain by provoking – trolling? – the crowd into booing him. It happened during a contentious third-round match against Feliciano Lopez that was marred by controversy, in which Medvedev was given a code violation in the first set after he angrily snatched a towel from a ball person. The fans began to unmercifully boo him and it continued after he secured victory. Medvedev gestured the crowd, both with a smirk on his face and with his hands to keep it up – and so they did.

“They kind of don’t understand that they shouldn’t do it,” Medvedev was quoted by The New York Times as saying afterward. “I feed from this energy, and that’s what I’m doing this tournament.”

Now, it seems, time has a way of mending old wounds and feelings, and through Medvedev’s first six victories of this New York fortnight, there’s been little drama or excitement – certainly no booing – as he’s carved up the lower half of the men’s draw in an efficient 11 hours and 51 minutes. He still enjoys feeding off the New York crowd’s energy, playing center stage actor on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis venue in the world. However, it seems Medvedev, now 25, is showing a bit more maturity that goes with being older and wiser – not to mention also being the World No. 2.

The second-seeded Medvedev has lost only one set in the tournament, against Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinal round. Throughout, as his victories against Richard Gasquet, Dominick Koepfer, Pablo Andújar, Dan Evans, van de Zandschulp and Auger-Aliassime attest, Medvedev has depended on a winning style that relies upon hitting big serves – many of them for aces – while standing well beyond the baseline to neutralize his opponent’s returns. For a player of Medvedev’s size – he’s 6-feet-6-inches (1.98 m) tall and weighs 182 pounds (83 kg) – he’s very agile and moves about the tennis court very gracefully.

On Friday, after Auger-Aliassime let slip two set points while serving in the second set at 5-3, Medvedev capitalized on his opportunity. He gained a break of serve two points later after Auger-Aliassime misfired on a backhand return, something the young Canadian regretted.

“He didn’t give me much opening,” Auger-Aliassime during his press conference. “Against a player like that, you don’t really have room for mistakes, room for losing your focus, which I did at the end of the second. He took advantage of it and I didn’t get another chance after that.”

As Medvedev recollected in his news conference, “He missed one volley, I made one good point, and the match turned around completely. …

“I’m really happy that I managed to stay consistent and strong throughout the match, especially on my serve. I don’t think I played my best today, but I’m really happy to be in the final on Sunday.”

Medvedev was asked after his semifinal victory if it’s been a smooth ride for him to this year’s US Open final. He replied: “It’s never easy, but I’m happy that I managed to save a lot of physical abilities, physical power, and mental power.

“For sure, I mean, I don’t think anybody is capable of winning slam after playing, let’s say, first three rounds five sets. I doubt this ever happened. So this is important.I’m really happy I managed to make it kind of fast.”

Does Medvedev feel that he’s matured as a player? “I have the experience of two finals of slams that can help me,” he said. “Doesn’t mean it will, but can help me. The only thing I can say is all what I have left, I’m going to throw it out on Sunday.”

And how will Medvedev approach his third major final appearance – and second against Djokovic after losing the title match of the Australian Open last February?

“He has 20 slams, going for the Golden Slam, it’s not a must, but I want to do it even more. That’s normal. The more you lose something, the more you want to win it, the more you want to gain it and take it,” Medvedev said.

“I lost two finals. I want to win the third one. That’s tennis, we have two players, only one [is] going to win. You never know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to try more than I did the first two times.”