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Daniil Medvedev pulls a Carlos Alcaraz against the Spaniard to reach the US Open final
On Friday night, it was the Russian who painted the lines, made the great gets and won the wild points.
Published Sep 09, 2023
NEW YORK—From small things, big things one day come.
Today was that big day for Daniil Medvedev.
The semifinal between Medvedev and Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open started out pretty much the way their other two matches this year had started: with Alcaraz getting an immediate jump on his older opponent. Serving at 1-2, 15-30 in the first set, Medvedev made a hash of a drop shot, which allowed Alcaraz to waltz in, blow a backhand pass by him, and earn two break points. In their matches at Indian Wells and Wimbledon this year, Alcaraz had completely out-classed Medvedev. Was he going to embarrass the former No. 1 three times in a row?
After saving one of those break points, Medvedev missed a first serve at 30-40. Then a funny thing happened. Alcaraz moved forward, took a big forehand cut, and shanked the ball well long. Right away, he looked over at his player box in frustration and started to argue with his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. On the next point, the same thing happened: Forehand return shank, frustrated dialogue with coach. Instead of Alcaraz ending the game with one of his patented screaming winners, it was Medvedev who knifed a backhand down the line to hold.
It was a small moment, but a new pattern had been set, and ESPN commentator Darren Cahill would soon look prescient.
“These early games in this first set, trying to reset the mentality of this match is going to be really important for Medvedev,” Cahill said.
“If he can get to 3-all, 4-all, he’ll start to gain that belief.”
That’s what happened. Medvedev settled in and played calm, consistent tennis, while Alcaraz was more agitated than normal. That agitation finally rose to the surface in the first-set tiebreaker. Starting at 3-3, Alcaraz put a drop shot into the net, framed a volley, hit a forehand into the net, and watched as Medvedev closed out the set with a forehand winner. According to Alcaraz, it was a four-point swing that essentially lost him two sets.
“After 3-all in the tiebreak, I, let’s say, I lose my mind. I make three or four points without control. I didn’t think,” he said. “I totally lose my mind on that set. It was really tough for me to handle it.”
“It was tough for me to came back, you know, to the match and playing a great game again.”
Alcaraz’s loss of control only fed Medvedev’s confidence as he ran away with the second set. With his deep return position, he made Alcaraz work for everything in his service games; the Spaniard finished with zero aces. In the rallies, it was Medvedev who was hitting the corners with his ground strokes, winning more of the frenetic points, and making the great gets. Alcaraz finally broke loose in the third set, but Medvedev stopped him cold again in set four, in a seven-deuce, 12-minute sixth game.
By that stage, Medvedev had measured his returns seemingly to within an inch of the net, and he was finding sharp passing-shot angles from both wings. Alcaraz had been charging forward for much of the night, with a good deal of success—he would finish 54 of 70 at net. Still, serving and volleying against Medvedev’s return was a risky proposition, yet Alcaraz continued to do it on very big points. It finally cost him.
Serving at 2-3, he drilled a 100-m.p.h forehand to reach game point, but then he served-and-volleyed on three straight points, lost them all, and was broken. He missed one volley wide and two into the net. Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, was urging him to come forward at all times, to take advantage of Medvedev’s deep court position. In the future, it might help Alcaraz to take a page from Coco Gauff’s book and ignore his coach’s advice every so often.
“Absolutely amazing,” Medvedev said of that long sixth game. “Every time he had these game points, I was saying to myself, ‘I can win this game. I can win this game.’ I managed to hit some amazing points. We were both pumping up the crowd, because the points were unbelievable.”
Most important for Medvedev, it seemed, was showing that he can still beat someone like Alcaraz playing his normal, back-of-the-court style.
“I’m happy because in Indian Wells and Wimbledon he used well my return position from the back,” Medvedev said. “But I knew that in my opinion it was not only this that made me lose to him, and I felt like even returning from the back I can cause him trouble, and I managed to prove it today.”
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Medvedev needed this win, to keep his place at the top of the sport, and not be entirely left behind by Alcaraz. But he knows it was still only a semifinal. There’s an even bigger match, and a more imposing opponent in Novak Djokovic, on Sunday.
“It was a great win, it’s great for the confidence,” Medvedev said. “At the same time that’s the thing about tennis, it’s great that I won this match, but if I lose on Sunday, it’s like it’s a good tournament but I’m going to be hella disappointed. That’s how tennis is.”