I believe it was the great Buster Poindexter who once sang, “Me mind on fire, me soul on fire” in his seminal 1987 classic “Hot Hot Hot,” and it was a similar sort of delirium that seemingly set in on Daniil Medvedev as faced Fabio Fognini on Wednesday. Stumbling off court after losing the second set sans shirt and shoes, the No. 2-seeded Russian appeared unequivocally broken after a marathon eighth game, one that left him asking umpire Carlos Ramos who would be responsible if the brutal combination of Tokyo’s heat and humidity conspired and combined to kill him.

"I can finish the match but I can die," Medvedev pleaded. "If I die, are you going to be responsible?"

Sufficiently cooled off from the set break, Medvedev somehow redirected his fire towards an equally overheated Fognini to outlast the Italian, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 and reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics quarterfinals. Ole, ole!

Medvedev’s return to his beloved hard courts was always going to feel like a warm hug after a tragicomic 12 weeks traversing clay courts and grass, but the 25-year-old clearly didn’t expect temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit in his Olympic debut. Narrowly avoiding a three-setter against Kazakh rival Alexander Bublik, the two-time Grand Slam runner-up next breezed past Sumit Nagal to book a third-round clash with a No. 15 seed whom he’d beaten in their last three matches.


Medvedev appeared on the verge of retiring after dropping a hotly contested second set to Fognini (Getty Images).

Medvedev appeared on the verge of retiring after dropping a hotly contested second set to Fognini (Getty Images).

Born in Moscow and based in Monaco, Medvedev isn’t entirely unfamiliar with blistering heat through his years as a professional tennis player, but the conditions nonetheless confounded him even through a straightforward opening set—calling the trainer and soon falling behind the aforementioned break in the second.

Fognini was playing his third Olympics and, looking to surpass the third-round finish he’d earned five years earlier in Rio, dug out of a 0-40 deficit to level the match and send Medvedev off court in search of refuge from the unrelenting Tokyo sun.

Reemerging on Ariake Coliseum with fresh clothes and renewed perspective, Medvedev reversed a 0-40 scoreline of his own to swiftly reclaim the momentum from Fognini, who lost 13 of the next 14 points to fall behind 3-0 in the decider. Making a final push as the Russian served at 4-2, the Italian couldn’t convert three break point opportunities and Medvedev ultimately edged over the finish line in just under two hours and 30 minutes.


Medvedev played his signature style, which some in the past have called anti-aesthete, throughout the morbidly entertaining encounter and overcame 40 unforced errors to tease out 44 from Fognini. Awaiting him in the last eight is No. 6 seed Pablo Carreño Busta, who took a set from the Olympic debutante last month on grass in Mallorca.

While a slew of top players opted out of the Olympics, a medal for Medvedev would likely carry a significance on par with major glory—particularly if he can finish atop the podium—and one is just about in reach if the Russian can keep cool as the stakes get higher, and hotter.