TC Live: Medvedev joins exclusive comoany

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“I got hurt a little bit,” Daniil Medvedev said as he talked about why he had decided to fall flat on his side after beating Novak Djokovic in the US Open final on Sunday. “It’s not easy to make it on hard courts. I got hurt a little bit, but I’m happy I made it legendary for myself.”

Medvedev said only fellow “legends” would understand his victory flop. The move, he explained to us non-legends, is called a “dead fish,” and was inspired by a PlayStation game. It’s certainly a long way from the most famous Grand Slam celebration of my youth, Bjorn Borg’s prayerful deep knee bend, which he reenacted after his last three Wimbledon titles.

But tennis can use an injection of the new and youthful, especially on the men’s side, and Medvedev brought it to us in New York. At 25, he’s not exactly a prodigy, or a Raducanu-level meteor, but he’s the youngest men’s major champion since Andy Murray won the Open in 2012. Along with Dominic Thiem, Medvedev is now the only active ATP player under 30 with a Slam title to his name. His victory didn’t signal a changing of the guard; Djokovic won three Slams this year, and isn’t going anywhere. But Medvedev did signal that he has arrived at the top of the game, and he’ll make a worthy and interesting successor to the Big 3.

For many, “interesting” might not be the word that comes to mind when watching Medvedev play. At first glance, he seems to win simply by getting the ball over the net one more time than his opponent. As Jimmy Arias said while commentating one of his matches last week, “When Medvedev gets his racquet on the ball, it tends to go in.” He put so many balls in play in the final that Djokovic, foiled and frustrated at the baseline, had to go to his tactic of last resort, the serve and volley. According to Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara, the idea in the final was to loft a lot of balls deep and down the middle, and take away Djokovic’s ground-stroke angles. It sounds simple, but winning tennis tactics usually are.

Appearances to the contrary, Medvedev is not a pusher, or a grinder, or a wallboard. Even when he’s in the middle of a 20- or 30-shot rally, I always feel as if there’s a thought behind each of his swings. He’ll put a little air under one ball, then add a little pace to another, then come under the next one, then finally rip one into the corner. Unlike a lot of players, even top players, Medvedev always seems to be making a last-second choice about what to do with his next shot.

Medvedev is just the second ATP player born in the 1990s to lift a major singles trophy, joining fellow US Open champion Thiem.

Medvedev is just the second ATP player born in the 1990s to lift a major singles trophy, joining fellow US Open champion Thiem.

Even when he’s trying something nominally risky, Medvedev hits his targets with amazing regularity. The shot that may have won him the final was a perfectly measured down-the-line backhand that dropped deep in the corner of the court, and that saved a break point at 1-2 in the second set. Djokovic was so surprised and incensed by it that he smashed his racquet, and later cited that moment as a turning point.

Medvedev has his flaws. He can be a loose cannon when things don’t go his way on court, and, like a lot of his fellow players, he has stated that he won’t get vaccinated. But he’s also funny and disarmingly honest. Asked what he was going to do after his big win, he said,

“I know I don’t have anything coming [up soon], so I know how to celebrate. Russians know how to celebrate. Hopefully I will not get in the news.”

Twelve months ago, we crowned another 20-something champion, Dominic Thiem, at the Open. He has hardly done anything since. It would be a surprise if something similar happens to Medvedev. Under the deadpan exterior is a player with a lot of belief in his abilities, and a drive to make the most of them. On Sunday Medvedev talked about the emotions he felt when he won his first Masters 1000 event two years ago.

“Winning the Masters, I’m super happy, strong achievement. Not many player won a Masters in their career,” he said. “But the only thing I was thinking after winning another Masters is I need more, I want to try to do more.”

It may be hard to top the dead fish, but based on those words, Medvedev should be celebrating more Grand Slam wins in the years ahead. I look forward to trying to figure out what they mean.