Winning Davis Cup Caps A Tremendous Year For Russian Tennis Federation

Team Russia (photo: Manuel Queimadelos/QualitySport Images/Kosmos Tennis)

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Throughout the Davis Cup Finals fortnight in the Spanish capital city of Madrid, the Russian Tennis Federation maintained a hungry demeanor. One could see it in each of the players’ faces.

Whether it was Andrey Rublev, who set the table for the Russian’s 2-0 triumph over Croatia Sunday afternoon inside a packed Madrid Arena, or Daniil Medvedev, whose straight-set win over Marin Cilic wrapped up a strong year for RTF players, the Russians won their third Davis Cup title and showed why they were the dominant team from first ball to last ball. The RTF equaled the Czech Republic and Germany for seventh place on the all-time list for most Davis Cup titles.

Give the Russians time and one day they just might eclipse the United States, which has been stuck on 32 titles since last lifting the Davis Cup trophy in 2007. In the meantime, the Russians now hold both the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup titles – the women beat Switzerland 2-0 in Prague in October – and let’s not forget the Russian men began the 2021 season by winning the ATP Cup and Medvedev went on to capture his first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open. Plus, the Russian nation has also been successful at the junior level, too, where they won the Junior Davis Cup title in October.

By winning Sunday, the RTF has become the fourth nation to win both Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup titles in the same year and the fifth nation to win both Davis Cup and Junior Davis Cup title in the same year. The bottom line is undeniable. The Russians have the right stuff. The last nation to achieve the Davis Cup-Billie Jean King Cup double was the Czech Republic in 2012.

Medvedev, 25, who clinched the 2021 Davis Cup title with his 7-6 (7), 6-2 triumph against the Croatian No. 1 Cilic, swept his way through five Davis Cup rubbers without dropping a set. The World No. 2, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2017, improved to 8-2 in Davis Cup singles following his title-clinching win over Cilic that lasted an hour and 28 minutes.

For the record, Medvedev recorded victories over Emilio Gomez of Ecuador, Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, Mikael Ymer of Sweden and Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, which set the stage for his showdown against Cilic. The Medvedev-Cilic clash was close for the first hour that it took to play the opening set, which was won by Medvedev in a 9-7 tiebreaker. Then, the Russian breezed through the second set in half as much time. Soon, it was game, set, match, Davis Cup title.

“It feels amazing,” Medvedev said during an on-court interview after beating the 30th-ranked Cilic and before the celebratory trophy ceremony began and the confetti rained down upon the show court. “But I’m more happy for the team than for myself. We have an amazing team, amazing atmosphere. I’m just happy to be part this team and being able to bring the points that we need.

“It was a pretty amazing two weeks. It’s never easy to come here at the end of the season, but they were some of the best weeks of my career. I’m very happy for the team.”

Regardless of moniker, Russian team had depth

The Russian team, playing under the name of their federation because the nation of Russia is banned from international competition for doping violations, also included Aslan Karatsev, Karen Khachanov and Evgeny Donskoy. It featured four players ranked in Top 30 – No. 2 Medvedev, No. 5 Rublev, No. 18 Karatsev and No. 29 Kachananov – and was full of talent and depth. Karatsev and Khachanov easily could have been frontline stars for other nations. The Russians were guided by team captain Shamil Tarpischev, who became the fifth captain to win at least three Davis Cup titles since 1972.

Looking back on their title-winning afternoon, in the first rubber, Rublev earned the Russians a crucial first point by winning the opening rubber of the final against a much-improved Borna Gojo of Croatia, 6-4, 7-6 (5), in a pressure-packed hour and 33 minutes that included a 36-shot rally in the opening game. It was Rublev’s third straight win after losing to 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez of Spain, in a tie which Russia won 2-1 against the home nation.

One-two combo: Rublev and Medvedev showed the right stuff

Rublev hit nine aces and 19 winners against the 279th-ranked Gojo, won 92 percent (36 of 39) of his first-serve points and did not face any break points on his serve. He overcame Gojo’s 15 aces and contributed toward the young, 22-year-old Croatian committing 22 unforced errors. By the end, Rublev had outpointed Gojo 78-62.

“It was a super tough match and put a lot of pressure on my singles,” Rublev, 24, said afterward. “It looked like I should win easy, but Borna was playing unbelievable. These two weeks, he beat some amazing players. He played amazing today. I’m really happy that I won the match. In the second set, I was a bit showing emotions because I feel that I’m really close to win the match. Somehow, he always was serving really well and really hard that I could not do anything. But in the end, I win the match and this is the most important thing. I’m enjoying the moment and happy I won my match.”

Would Rublev feel a sense of nervousness while watching Medvedev, his teammate, go at it against Cilic? “Probably now, nervous a lot,” he admitted. “But the previous matches, I had huge confidence in Daniil because the way he’s been playing – the way he’s always fighting – I always trust him.”

Meanwhile, in the second rubber, Medvedev earned Rublev’s trust and fought from beginning to end. He was solid with nine aces and 11 winners that overcame his 15 unforced errors. Medvedev saved the only break point he faced, which came during the eighth game of the second set, and won 87 percent (34 of 39) of his first-serve points. It was just a minor blemish on an otherwise outstanding afternoon, in which Medvedev outclassed and outpointed Cilic 68-56.

“Marin is an amazing player, so it was a tough match all day long,” Medvedev said. “Only one break of serve in the whole match. A tie break, yeah, it was a matter of a few points. I made a double fault on the set point that was probably a big mistake. Today, it was enough to win. It was a really tough match.”

Tie never got to Doubles No. 1 Mektic and Pavic

With the Russians building an insurmountable 2-0 lead, Croatia never got to call upon their ace in the hole, the World No. 1 doubles team of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, who had been perfect during the Davis Cup tournament with four earlier victories. Instead, they were relegated to being bystanders on the Croatian team bench. Afterward, Medvedev came over and shook hands with each of them after he beat Cilic. Disappointed, Croatia finished runners up, just like they did to Argentina in Zagreb in 2016,  instead of repeating their 2018 success when they won it all against France in Lille. However, by finishing first and second, both Russia and Croatia earned direct entry into next year’s Davis Cup Finals, site to be determined.

Looking back, the pre-tournament favorite Russians won their group that included defending 2019 champion Spain and Ecuador, then advanced over Sweden in the quarterfinals and beat Germany in Saturday’s semifinal round. When it was time to stand up and be counted, Medvedev was first in line.

By the numbers

• Russian Tennis Federation captain Shamil Tarpischev is the longest-serving Davis Cup captain of all-time and on Sunday contested his 101st Davis Cup tie as captain after being honored with a celebratory 100th tie cake on Saturday. He first captained the RTF team in 1974 and began his current stint as captain in 1997, missing just one tie since then. Tarpischev has guided the RTF to each of its Davis Cup titles – in 2002, 2006 and 2021 – and is the fifth captain to win at least three Davis Cup titles since 1972 (after Neal Fraser, Niki Pilic, Yannick Noah and Hans Olsson). He has a 66-35 overall win-loss record in Davis Cup competition.

Andrey Rublev, who beat Borna Gojo in the opening singles rubber, has the fourth-most match wins (singles and doubles combined) by a Russian Tennis Federation player with 20. His 20-10 win-loss record puts him behind Yevgeny Kafelnikov (44-28), Marat Safin (31-21) and Michael Youzhny (21-17). He improved his singles record to 12-5, which is fifth best among RTF players.

• How dominant was the Russian Tennis Federation team in team competitions this year? Consider this: Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev won the ATP Cup, Laver Cup and Davis Cup and Rublev won a gold medal in mixed doubles with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Tokyo Olympics. Also, Aslan Karatsev won an Olympics mixed doubles silver medal with Elena Vesnina and was part of the Russian winning teams in the ATP Cup and Davis Cup, and Karen Khachanov won a silver medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympics.

Quotable …”

“Team competition is always special. Normally we don’t have much time to spend together. These kind of competitions, we have to be together almost every day, eat together, have breakfast together, spend time together. This is something special that we are missing that we don’t really have time to do. These kind of events, they give us this chance. It’s a great feeling because then you have a lot of memories. This is the most important thing.”

Andrey Rublev of the Russian Tennis Federation, who made his Davis Cup debut back in 2014, during his team’s final press conference.