Becoming a fan favorite isn’t easy in this era of men’s tennis greats, but Medvedev has cracked the code. With the crowd on his side at Flushing Meadows, anything seems possible.

In a pavlova, baked meringue edges provide a crunch before the shell yields to reveal a gooey, marshmallow center. Ladyfingers soaked in espresso and marsala wine are met with luscious mascarpone cheese and a cocoa-powder topping to complete a tiramisu. Panna cotta can melt in your mouth, if the infused cooked cream achieves an immaculate tender wobble. Frangipane encased by delicate golden flakes exuding a buttery perfume are the crux of an almond croissant.

All of these divine treats are as simple as they are complex. Looking beyond their flavors uncovers layers of technique, texture and touch that make each end product exceptional. And conceivably, it’s why these four indulgences are favorites of Daniil Medvedev—an enigmatic tennis player with a layered personality and a game that continues to develop in the test kitchen.

“I just like sugar,” he shares in our interview from Marseille. “When I was really young, I was capable of eating sugar from the small bag for the tea.”

Over the past four years, Medvedev has been a sweet addition to the highest echelon of the ATP. When he broke onto the scene, the Russian’s menu of offerings was overwhelmed by an excessive extract—aggression built on swinging for winners, no matter the situation. At 6’6’’, Medvedev eventually recognized that his reach, movement and serve were untapped assets that would aid in savoring more victories. Learning how to come forward and slice effectively were inviting enhancements.

Through this process, Medvedev grew to understand his brand of tennis was in many ways a reflection of his character, one baked with salty, sharp and spicy notes.

“It’s always tough to know yourself. You feel like you know and then something happens in your life where you say, ‘OK, maybe I changed,” ponders Medvedev. “Maybe I didn’t know this part of myself.’ And that’s the same on the tennis court.

“My goal is to be the most universal player possible. Sometimes, we say that it’s better to have one shot that works 100 percent of the time, than 100 shots that work 80 percent of the time. For me, it’s the second one. I want to be sure in my game that I’m capable of a lot of things.

“All the small details are really fun for me. I like to work on them. And that’s what I like about my game.”

By focusing on perfecting his unique recipe, Medvedev has proven to be one tough cookie. Take Milos Raonic, who at the start of August owned eight hard-court titles. Despite his first-strike approach anchored by a spectacular serve, the Canadian has lost all three meetings to Medvedev on the surface.

All the small details are really fun for me. I like to work on them. And that’s what I like about my game.

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For Raonic, the aspects Medvedev enjoys enriching are what make him so challenging to face.

“He has a way of covering the court from pretty far back, where it might feel like he’s not able to be dangerous from there. But he has this ability to really hit the ball, keep it low, looking for his first opportunity to come in,” Raonic recounts in Miami. “He gets a lot of free points on his serve, then he makes you work on those. All of those things allow the pressure on his opponents to build up.”

Continues Raonic, “On the backhand side, he hits very flat on it, almost underneath the ball where it has a little bit of slice to it. It’s really hard to attack him there. One thing that perplexes me: when people try to bring him forward, you don’t see many guys come in, hit a shot inside the service line and then start running backwards. And yet he does it in an effective way.”

Ploys like this were in Medvedev’s storefront display between November 2020 and February 2021, when he ran up a streak of 20 successive victories. Like the contrasting qualities of Medvedev’s cherished pavlova, audacious second serves, unexpected net rushes, defying defensive shots and flat-out punches propelled him to the biggest trophy of his career at the ATP Finals, where he outclassed Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem to finish the year 10–0. Ten more wins came in Melbourne to kick off the new year, when he joined forces with Andrey Rublev to lead Russia to the ATP Cup title, and then reached his second Grand Slam final at the Australian Open.

In pinpointing his sweet spot, Medvedev was encouraged to push the envelope on his flavor profiles.

“You start making some shots where after you say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I could make it.’ There are many small things which start working for you,” Medvedev says. “When you’re in the zone, you do second serves 160 kilometers per hour, like it were easy. You never do double faults. I feel like that’s something I have learned in the past years, to keep it up. Especially when I won 20 matches in a row.

“There were many matches where, if we talk details, it will be break points for the other guy, set and a break up. But I managed to just continue posing some questions to my opponents. It’s a great experience to know that when I’m playing good, I’m capable of doing such amazing things.”

After falling to Medvedev in the Australian Open semifinals, Stefanos Tsitsipas professed to the media, “Let me tell you that he’s a player who has unlocked pretty much everything in the game. I was just focused on my game, and he put out his show. He became Daniil Medvedev for three sets in a row.”

Though Djokovic dashed Medvedev’s hopes of a Grand Slam dream, the 25-year-old achieved a different breakthrough a few weeks later following his title run in Marseille. On March 15, Medvedev emerged as the first ATP player besides Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to rank inside the Top 2 since July 2005.

“I don’t think when you’re a kid, you dream of 20 Grand Slams. And same about the world No. 1, you don’t think about 311 weeks [in that position],” says Medvedev. “When I say No. 1, you think about at least one week.”

Djokovic denied the Russian, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, at the final hurdle in Melbourne this year.

Djokovic denied the Russian, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, at the final hurdle in Melbourne this year. 

Becoming world No. 1 is not an ambition that keeps Medvedev up at night, however. It points to an essential layer of his identity: balance. When on the practice court or at a tournament, tennis is top of mind. When a racquet isn’t in hand, or a training session is off the books, Medvedev allows life to determine the day's menu.

“As soon as I’m home, I’m not thinking about tennis. I play some games on my phone, talk to people, see friends. I’m not obsessed in a bad way with tennis,” he says. “Of course, tennis is 90 percent of my life. When I have to think about tennis, I’m 100 percent into it, and I’m trying to do my best. As soon as I have the chance and I feel like I need to disconnect, I can do easily.”

Linked since they were juniors, Rublev has seen Medvedev from a 360-degree view—a long way from the days when they were a pair of “crazy” crying kids. He’s witnessed his countryman’s spirit in stadiums, his emotional growth, and his soul away from the big stages—one the 23-year-old affirms is consistent with the multi-dimensional man we all see.

“Daniil is relaxed, really honest, humble, really funny. It’s fun to spend time with him,” Rublev says in Miami. “The way he plays on court, sometimes you see his movements are strange, you don’t realize how he does it. He is the same in life. Sometimes he says things that make you think, ‘how is it possible?’ Or maybe he tries to dance. He makes you smile.”

When Medvedev winds his way towards the US Open, there should be plenty of smiles to go around. For it was the 2019 summer hard-court season where Medvedev cooked up four consecutive final-round runs—including at Flushing Meadows—to launch himself as a sustainable contender. It was clear then that he favored the summer swing’s sweltering conditions: its particular heat presents a lighter ball than normal, reducing the onus on a player to generate power and, in turn, enabling ball-strikers like Medvedev to simply let it rip.

Though the tennis environments of the summer are a giant plus, the actual time of year is something Medvedev values equally.

“It’s a good moment of the year. The summer is coming to an end, but it’s still here,” he says. “So you try to take the last breezes of summer because you know then it’s going to be indoor hard-court tournaments. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be different.”

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Earlier this month, Medvedev triumphed over Reilly Opelka in the Toronto final. He then added a semifinal showing in Cincinnati.

Both the US Open and Cincinnati announced in June that their events would be staged at full capacity. It’s a far cry from what Medvedev and the rest of his peers experienced a year ago during the sport’s COVID-19 pandemic reopening, when the Western & Southern Open was moved as part of a doubleheader behind closed doors at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Though he managed a return trip to the semifinals of the US Open, Medvedev arguably missed the fan presence more than anyone on site, given his unforgettable experience with the Queens crowd in 2019.

In his third-round match with Feliciano Lopez, Medvedev’s spicy side came out when he aggressively snatched a towel from a ballperson and flipped the bird, inciting crowd jeers.

After Medvedev won the match, his salty side took over. As boos rained, the No. 5 seed stood at the microphone and trolled. “First of all, I can say thank you all, guys, because your energy tonight gave me the win.” Once done speaking, Medvedev provoked heckling by gesturing his arms in what’s since become a viral GIF.

Two days later, after defeating Dominik Koepfer in another four-set battle, the honesty Rublev underscored came pouring out of Medvedev.

“I was an idiot,” Medvedev acknowledged in press. “I did some things that I’m not proud of and that I’m working on to be a better person on the court, because I do think I’m a good person out of the court.”

Slowly but surely over the rest of the fortnight, Medvedev changed opinions when he eliminated 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka and Federer-conqueror Grigor Dimitrov. By the time Medvedev got to the final, his sweet side won over the entirety of Arthur Ashe Stadium, as he battled back from two sets down to push Nadal into a deciding set.

The Spaniard would prevail to win his 19th Grand Slam title, but Medvedev’s final speech was the cherry on top—a delightful combination of his favorite desserts: buttery, smooth and classy.

“When I was looking on the screen, and they were showing No. 1, No. 2, No. 19, I was like, ‘If I would win, what would they show?’”, the self-deprecating Medvedev said as he addressed Nadal. Laughs ensued.

Later, speaking directly to the crowd, the runner-up said, “I know earlier in the tournament I said something in kind of a bad way and now I’m saying it in a good way: That it’s because of your energy that I’m in the final.” Applause filled the 23,771-seat venue.

With another full house on tap, one will be hard-pressed to find a sweeter reunion on the grounds than with the US Open’s one-time heel. Pass the tiramisu, please.

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The 25-year-old is seeded No. 2 for the third consecutive major.

The 25-year-old is seeded No. 2 for the third consecutive major.