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Daniil Medvedev embraces fears as challenges with Roland Garros campaign nearing second week
Ready for his star turn, Medvedev finds himself buffeted by a political controversy with a Spanish phenom rising up behind him. The Russian says he’s keeping his head down and focusing on what he can control.
Published May 26, 2022
WATCH: Medvedev is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros, starting from his first round against Facundo Bagnis.
Daniil Medvedev was up two sets and a break against his second-round opponent, Laslo Djere, in Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday. He was serving at 4-3, and had a game point to make it 5-3. Everything about this early day match had gone according to plan for the Russian. For two hours, he had settled himself well behind the baseline, made as many balls as possible, and watched his opponent commit error after error. Clay is, famously, Medvedev’s most-dreaded surface, but he appeared to be cruising into the third round at the world’s biggest clay-court event.
On the next point, Medvedev got a little cute. He tried a drop shot that Djere retrieved and sent straight back to him. Medvedev could have hit any shot he wanted, but rather than drill a pass into the open court, he tried a delicate topspin lob instead. Too delicate, it turned out. Djere reached up and plucked a nice high volley out of the air for a winner. Suddenly, the score was deuce, and a Medvedev win didn’t look quite as certain as it had a few seconds before. When Djere made an error on the next point, Medvedev let out a loud roar of relief. A few minutes later, he closed out a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
You can understand why Medvedev would want to close out a best-of-five-set match as quickly as possible. This is the man who, earlier this year in Melbourne, was up two sets to love against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final. Medvedev appeared to be on his way to his second straight Grand Slam title, and to a long stint at No. 1. We finally had an heir apparent to the Big 3, and it was this lanky, tricky, steady, thoughtful Russian, who, with his length and his speed, seemed destined to expand our ideas about how the sport could be played and how the court could be covered.
As we know now, that’s not how things played out. Medvedev lost the next three sets to Nadal. While he did reach No. 1 the following month, he only stayed there for a couple of weeks. He lost early in Indian Wells, and after Miami announced he was having hernia surgery and would be out for two months. During that time, Wimbledon banned Medvedev and his fellow Russians from the All England Club, and Carlos Alcaraz essentially replaced him as the next big thing in men’s tennis. Last week the ATP said it wouldn’t reward ranking points to anyone at Wimbledon if the Russians weren’t allowed to play.
Medvedev, as the best of the current crop of Russian players, has become the man in the middle of the controversy. Instead of continuing his rise to the pinnacle of the game, he has spent much of 2022 simply hoping that he still gets a chance, as he says, “to play my favorite sport.” Now he has to deal with the ripple of backlash among his fellow players that the ATP’s decision to strip Wimbledon of points has caused. Benoit Paire said it was “absurd” that Medvedev would move back up to No. 1 if no one could earn points there.
How does Medvedev feel about all this? He's rarely, if ever, at a loss for words. His press conferences are always among the most interesting and revealing, and his answers typically go well beyond the parameters of the question he’s been posed. For example, today he was asked, for some reason, about his fear of spiders, and whether he feared them more than an early-round loss at Roland Garros. Medvedev began by reassuring us that he isn’t as scared of spiders as he was when he was “10 or 12.”
“I never saw tarantula, so I think I’m gonna be scared if I see one,” he said, in what will surely go down as one of the most random press-conference statements of the year. “I’m not anymore scared of small spiders.”
I try to work hard on...not being scared of anything and just learning, even if I do mistakes, not being scared to repeat them but try not to repeat them. Daniil Medvedev
Rather than leave it at that and move on so he could get out of the interview room as quickly as possible, Medvedev pursued the idea, and mused on what fear can do to you when you’re in the public eye, and how he’s tried to overcome it.
“Fear is actually what we can feel every day in tennis,” he said. “You’re scared to lose. Sometimes you are scared what people gonna think about you.”
“You know, so for example, I was No. 1 in the world for two weeks, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not scared if people going to say, ‘Well, yeah, it doesn’t matter, you were only two weeks.’ But you can be scared of this. I think in every sport, especially the higher you get, the more you can have this situation.
“I try to work hard on, you know, not being scared of anything and just learning, even if I do mistakes, not being scared to repeat them but try not to repeat them.”
Medvedev, perhaps understandably, hasn’t had as much to say about the Wimbledon ban, and the tours’ response. He probably knows that, as a victim of one decision and a beneficiary of the other, he’ll be criticized for any stance he takes. When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, he said that he wants to “promote peace around the world.” This week, after the ATP and WTA removed the ranking points, he said that, unlike Wimbledon’s ban, he understood the logic of that decision.
“I’m not saying which decision is right,” he said, “but at least so far in explaining their decisions, I found ATP just more logical and more consecutive.”
Medvedev mostly seems to be trying to keep his head down, accept his fate, and make the most of it.
“I need to be honest,” he said this week, “I’d be really happy to play Wimbledon. I love Wimbledon. I love playing on grass. But if I cannot, just going to prepare for next tournaments.”
For now, Medvedev is left to try to earn as many ranking points as he can on clay. He’s through two rounds, but it won’t get easier for him in Paris: On Saturday he’ll face a test from the fast-improving Miomir Kecmanovic. Nobody knows better than Medvedev how quickly things can change in tennis. A few months ago, he was on the verge of becoming the next big thing in the game; yesterday, the player who currently has that title, Carlos Alcaraz, was one point from elimination in the second round. Medvedev’s time on the big stage will come again soon, likely when the tour returns to hard courts.
“You know, my main job is to play tennis,” Medvedev said, “try to get points here as much as I can.
“If I cannot play [Wimbledon], I’m gonna stay, home, practice hard, and try to be better for my next tournaments.
“That’s all I have to say right now.”