CINCY HIGHLIGHTS: Medvedev defeats Fritz

Before his quarterfinal with Daniil Medvedev on Friday in Cincinnati, Taylor Fritz was asked what he “had learned about going deep in these big events.” This year the 24-year-old has won his first Masters 1000 title, at Indian Wells, and reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, at Wimbledon. Now, after edging No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev 7-5 in the third set on Thursday, he had put himself at the business end of another top-level tournament.

Fritz, with admirable honesty, said that while he had certainly improved, it also helped not having “these roadblocks”—i.e., Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray—to deal with as often, and as early, as he once did.

“I’m a lot better of a player, and these super-human players aren’t in the draw,” he said with a smile.

By the start of his second set with Medvedev, Fritz may have wondered if he had spoken a little too soon. He had never played the Russian before, after all, and never seen just how much ground he can cover during a point.

The opening set was tight and well-played, and Fritz reached set point three times before Medvedev finally ran away with it in a tiebreaker. Now Fritz was on the verge of surrendering his serve at 0-1 in the second. Desperate not to fall farther behind, he saved two break points with a winning serve and a winning backhand, and it looked as if he would save another in the same way, as he moved Medvedev from side to side, and went in for a killer crosscourt forehand. The only problem was that Medvedev refused to be killed. The Russian sprinted into the far corner, outside of the camera’s view, and threw up a towering lob that landed a foot inside the baseline. Fritz, stunned, plunked a weary and resigned-looking forehand wide. It was a shot that said: “What else can I do against this guy?”

Superhuman indeed.


Medvedev is through to his third Western & Southern Open semifinal in four years.

Medvedev is through to his third Western & Southern Open semifinal in four years.

This first meeting between Medvedev and Fritz was an interesting and important test for both men. The world No. 1 was trying to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal in 12 months, and to build some momentum for his US Open title defense after a disappointing, stop-and-start season in which he has just one small title to his name. Fritz, the U.S. No. 1, was testing himself against the world’s best; he had spent the season knocking on the door of the Top 10, and this was another chance for him to try to crack the ATP’s elite.

Fritz, essentially, came up just a shot short of that goal in the first set. There was nothing to separate the two players through the first 12 games. They powered ground strokes to both corners and changed directions with the ball constantly; mixed in drop shots and threw up winning topspin lobs; bailed themselves out with aces when they needed them. If one of them had the edge, it was Fritz. At 3-2, he reached break point, worked the rally to his advantage, but missed a gimme forehand long. At 5-4, he reached set point, worked the rally to his advantage again, but missed a gimme backhand long. Frustrated, Fritz went down quickly in the tiebreaker, 7-1, and was never in the match again.

“There were a few points where he just made a mistake,” Medvedev said in his summation of the first set.

When Fritz lost to Nadal in five at Wimbledon, it seemed to me that the American lacked that little something extra, a drop shot or a finesse shot—some way to end a point other than hitting through the other guy. In his loss to Medvedev, Fritz was a step behind his opponent on defense, especially on his backhand side. Otherwise, he played him evenly. There isn’t much that separates No. 1 from No. 13 (Fritz’s current ranking), but there doesn’t need to be.

Medvedev, who will play either Stefanos Tsitsipas or John Isner on Saturday, looks like he may be ready to separate himself from the pack again.