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With Alcaraz and Kyrgios out, Daniil Medvedev creeps back toward the Australian Open spotlight
Can the Russian, comfortably into the second round, put a season to forget behind him with a fresh start Down Under?
Published Jan 16, 2023
HIGHLIGHTS: Medvedev's five-set loss to Nadal in last year's Australian Open final—our No. 2 match of '22
It took Australian Open commentator John Fitzgerald less than a minute to correctly size up Daniil Medvedev’s first-round match with Marcos Giron on Monday night.
“What did you think of that first game, Robbie?” Fitzgerald asked his boothmate, Robbie Koenig, after Medvedev rolled through a frictionless service hold to start. “It looked a bit ominous to me.”
Fitzgerald’s fears of a blowout proved to be well-founded. Giron is a pesky grinder who makes his living with his consistency and fitness, rather than his ball-striking. Which means he’s exactly the kind of guy who Medvedev would love to face all day, every day.
The Russian is every bit as consistent as the American, and he can track down just as many balls. But he’s also a better server and a more creative shot-maker. Medvedev can get edgy quickly when things don’t go his way, but Giron never found a way to hurt him, rush him or ruffle him. Medvedev finished with 29 winners to Giron’s seven. Later he admitted that, after he went up two sets to love, his mind started drifting ahead to what he would say in his on-court interview with Jim Courier.
“Really happy with the match,” is what Medvedev eventually told Courier when his 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 win was complete. “To beat [Giron] with this score, in the first round of a Slam, is great. I’m really happy about my level.”
Medvedev wore a bright red Lacoste shirt—with a new, gaming-inspired logo—for his Melbourne opener, a departure from his normal low-key range of blues. Maybe it’s a way to signal a fresh, fiery start for a new year. If so, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to put 2022 behind him. A season that began with so much promise quickly became one to forget.
Up two sets to love against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final, Medvedev seemed to have the future of men’s tennis in his hands. He had won the previous US Open, was closing in on No. 1 and had a game that many observers, including this one, thought might be the next step in the sport’s evolution. Then everything went wrong, in every way possible—physical, political, mental.
Medvedev squandered that two-set lead against Nadal, and lashed out at the Australian crowds that favored his opponents. He had hernia surgery. He was banned from Wimbledon and from defending Russia’s Davis Cup title, and essentially turned into a stateless player. He was embarrassed by Nick Kyrgios at the US Open, in front of another crowd that was loudly against him. By the time the Open was over, the future belonged to someone newer and younger: Carlos Alcaraz.
In Medvedev’s last event, the ATP Finals in Turin, he lost all three of his matches, all in third-set tiebreakers. It felt like a fitting way to put the year to bed, and another reason to savor a new beginning in Australia.
“This feeling of the first tournament of the year is really special,” Medvedev said last week. “I usually feel like I’m able to play good the first tournaments, and I like playing in Australia, so really looking forward to it.”
As much as Medvedev wants to put 2022 behind him, though, his country’s war with Ukraine will continue to follow him, and continue to make his professional life more precarious. He, along with his fellow Russian players, was barred from competing in the season-opening team event, the United Cup.
“I would definitely prefer to play United Cup,” Medvedev said last week in Adelaide. “United Cup seems interesting. We would be the only team with four players of Top 10, so we would definitely be good favorites.”
As it is, though, Medvedev is grateful just to have the chance to play any tournaments at all.
“I completely understand why we are not playing Davis Cup or United Cup and team competitions where we would represent our country,” he said. “Hopefully I can play the individual events. I play what I can play.”
Despite an uncertain schedule, Medvedev knows better than anyone how fickle the fate of a pro can be. Whoever is rising one week may be falling the next, and no one’s future is written in stone. Just look at what has happened at the Australian Open so far. The darlings of 2022, Alcaraz and Kyrgios, have been forced to pull out due to injury. That means Medvedev, who was well under the radar a few days ago, will creep closer to the spotlight.
His next match, against Aussie John Millman, will put Medvedev squarely in the crosshairs of the fans who irritated him a year ago. Can the Russian keep his cool? Can he start to start to reclaim the future that seemed to be his?
“Great memories,” Medvedev said, with a wry smile, when he was asked about his 2022 Australian Open. “But definitely want to have better ones this year.”