Daniil Medvedev snapped a clay-court losing streak to make a triumphant return from COVID-19 at the Mutua Madrid Open, outlasting hometown favorite Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

"I feel like first set, I should have won it, too, but that's clay," he said after the match. "You know, you have a lot of break points. He played good. He made some winners. I lost my serve from not so many break points, I think I saved one, and yeah, the serve was over so it was very frustrating."

The No. 2 seed hadn’t won a clay-court match since April of 2019, and overcame some mid-match angst to knock out the surging Spaniard in two hours and 12 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium.

"A lot of matches on clay I lost like this before so I knew, 'Okay, there is nothing to do else than continue playing,' because I was playing not bad. I managed to actually finish the important moments with some good shots, and that was the key to win the match."

A former junior Wimbledon champion, Davidovich Fokina spent several days training with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic during lockdown, and that has seemingly inspired the undeniable upswing he has been on from when play resumed last summer. Starting with a run to the fourth round of the US Open, the 21-year-old won his first Masters 1000 main draw matches a few weeks later in Paris and despite missing the Australian summer due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, has exponentially increased his momentum with the incorporation of marathoner Martin Fiz onto his team as a mental coach. As the clay court season got underway, he scored his first Top 10 win en route to a maiden quarterfinal at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

Advertising

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid

Getty Images

Taking on the Spaniard for the first time, Medvedev was playing his first singles match after missing Monte Carlo thanks to his own positive COVID-19 test. Compounding the rust was his notorious disdain for clay, a surface on which he’d lost his last six matches—dating back to a runner-up finish in Barcelona two years ago. An opening round doubles win seemingly re-calibrated the Russian as he was the first to break serve on Wednesday morning, but Davidovich Fokina—in between treatment for blistered fingers—swiftly leveled and saved four break points in his subsequent two service games to stake his claim on the match.

Medvedev has excelled on quicker surfaces, having reached two Grand Slam finals on hard-courts, and where he can easily penetrate the court on concrete, the 25-year-old struggled to find the right weight of shot to trouble Davidovich Fokina, who took the first set when a backhand floated long.

The Australian Open runner-up took out his frustrations on the court, and later argued with umpire Adel Nour on whether he might merit a warning should he vent similarly in the future.

“I cannot do damage to a bad surface,” Medvedev insisted. “It’s already damaged.”

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid

Advertising

Getty Images

Channeling those frustrations into the second set, he took another early lead only to find himself at three games apiece when another backhand landed beyond the baseline. On the brink of an epic meltdown, Medvedev capitalized on a patchy bit of play from Davidovich Fokina, who broke himself from 40-15 up with a slew of unforced errors.

Medvedev shook off three missed set points—two on his serve with bold forehand misses—to tap into a vein of solid serving and level the match as Davidovich Fokina earned a code violation for an audible obscenity.

Break points continued to abound for Medvedev early in the decider; he converted his fourth of the set with a backhand putaway and reeled off 13 of the next 15 points to earn a commanding 5-1 advantage.

Though Davidovich Fokina managed a late hold, it only briefly postponed the inevitable as Medvedev moved to match point and wrapped up the win with an ace.

In the end, it was all love for the emotional Russian, who wrote "Love clay :)" on the camera following the milestone win.

"I probably will say it even if I win Roland Garros, one moment probably when Rafa retires, maybe it will be just a little bit easier. I will still like other surfaces more, but it's only my opinion, so I don't pretend to have the truthful opinion."

Up next for Medvedev is No. 16 seed Cristian Garin, who knocked out Dominik Koepfer in straight sets earlier in the day.

The round of 16 took shape on Wednesday with top seeds Medvedev and Rafael Nadal leading the way. Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas made a winning debut in Madrid; the No. 4 seed eased past the prodigal Benoit Paire, 6-1, 6-2. The Frenchman snapped a seven-match losing streak but Tsitsipas ultimately advanced with little issue to book an intriguing third-round clash with Norway's Casper Ruud.

An emerging threat on clay, Ruud is fresh off back-to-back semifinal finishes in Monte Carlo and Munich, and backed up an impressive upset of No. 15 seed Félix Auger-Aliassime with an equally decisive victory against Yoshihito Nishioka, 6-1, 6-2.

American John Isner earned an encounter with No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev after saving a match point to survive Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6), while Monte Carlo semifinalist Daniel Evans maintained his momentum with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 win over John Millman. Evans will next face No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev, who eased past former Madrid finalist Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 6-2.

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid

Daniil Medvedev conquers clay demons to advance in Madrid