Last year’s match between Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Miami was an exercise in mutual, occasionally comical, frustration. The Russian and the Greek took dueling, suspiciously-timed bathroom breaks. One became angry at the other for not apologizing after a net cord. They had to be separated at the net after it was over.
While the two were hardly much chummier during their match in Monte Carlo today, the tension was of the normal, muted variety when up-and-comers go head to head in a Masters 1000 event. In the end, the result was the same as it has been every time these two have played on the ATP tour: Medvedev beat Tsitsipas for the fourth straight time, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.
That the 23-year-old Russian has a perfect record against the 20-year-old Greek may come as a surprise to many. Over the last 12 months, Tsitsipas has been the more celebrated Next Genner. He’s the one with the memorable hair and even more memorable one-handed backhand. He’s the one with the high-profile win over Novak Djokovic in Toronto last year, and the even more high-profile win over Roger Federer in Australia this year. Medvedev, meanwhile, had just one win over a Top 10 player before today, and just two career wins on clay.
Just as important from a publicity perspective, Medvedev’s game isn’t as photogenic as Tsitsipas’s. At 6'6", with slightly slumped shoulders, the Russian almost looks too large for the labor-intensive baseline style that he plays. His forehand is a giant swoop, and his backhand is an oddly pinched-looking line drive. He plays as far back in the court as possible, where his long wingspan makes it tough for opponents to get the ball past him.
But Medvedev doesn’t lack touch or agility. Today he tracked down most of Tsitsipas’ drop shots, was every bit as good in the cat-and-mouse rallies, and won his share of points with his own finesse shots. Put it all together and Medvedev is a sort of Miloslav Mecir for the power age; like the Big Cat, the even bigger Russian’s mix of speeds, his stubborn consistency, his ability to put the ball in difficult places for his opponents, and his deceptively heavy serve and ground strokes make him a difficult guy to play.
Especially, it seems, for Tsitsipas. Despite winning the second set easily, Tsitsipas felt compelled to leave his usual baseline game behind and try to serve and volley against Medvedev. At times, it worked brilliantly, but it also led to errors at net, and to a quick, decisive break at 4-5 in the third. In that game, Tsitsipas missed an overhead and double faulted at match point.
“It’s a great achievement,” Medvedev said. “I had only two wins on clay on the ATP tour before this tournament.”
“In the third set, I just went out there and thought, ‘OK, I just need to put every ball I can in the court.”
While Medvedev may not be the best-known of the ATP’s youngish guns, he doesn’t lack for accomplishments. He has won four titles since the start of 2018, and he’s currently at a career-high ranking of No. 14; he obviously won’t have many points to defend during the clay season.
What he lacks is a signature win. Could that come against Djokovic in Monte Carlo tomorrow? It’s still a long shot, but Medvedev’s future as a Top 10 player and Grand Slam contender seems like more of a sure thing than ever.