It’s no secret that Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev go way back. Their junior days were built on pushing limits and hating to lose. And though their early bond had heated moments that occasionally boiled to “crazy”, that mutual passion has brought the pair of friends, who present different styles of tennis, to big occasions like winning the ATP Cup together and sharing the court on the Grand Slam stage.
Unfortunately for Rublev, he hasn’t come close to cracking Medvedev’s code at the top of the sport. Facing off at the Australian Open on Wednesday, Medvedev eased into the semifinals with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 victory, and has now won all 10 sets they’ve played at the tour level, adding to last year’s US Open quarterfinal win.
"We had some unbelievable rallies. After the point, it's tough to breathe. I think I'm one of the first players to make Andrey that tired on the court, so I'm quite happy about it," Medvedev said in his on-court interview.
"We're all so competitive that during the match, you can see that nothing matters. You just need to win. So far, I think my game matches his quite well. I know how to neutralize his amazing big shots. That was definitely one of the best matches I played lately, not only here. I think he was playing really good."
While Medvedev held without much resistance in the first set, Rublev, who elected to receive, was made to work after his first trip to the line. In the sixth game, Medvedev’s variety of forehands, including an inside-out scorcher that set up his third break point chance, propelled him to a 4-2 lead. As Brad Stine noted courtside, Medvedev began breathing a bit heavier and a loose game, culminating with a double fault, gifted the break back.
Noticing his opponent’s forehand was unraveling, Rublev challenged Medvedev by directing exchanges to that wing. It kept him close, as Medvedev racked up 11 forehand unforced errors, yet it still wasn’t enough. Experimenting with his serve positioning throughout the set, Rublev made just 50 percent of his first serves, and was broken at love. He produced just four winners to 17 unforced errors.
Both dusted off their racquets to begin much cleaner in set two. Rublev was strong early with a couple of love holds, though by 2-3, both noticeably felt the weight of the hotter conditions. The two exchanged a 43-shot rally until Medvedev’s inside-in forehand just missed the sideline. Having wiped away a break point, Rublev had three chances to move ahead in the ensuing game.
The two took a visible pause after Medvedev’s vibration dampener flew off mid serve, a deuce point he would lose. With each benefiting from a little extra shade and recuperation, the 2019 US Open finalist erased the third break point with an efficient 1-2 combo, a save that turned out to be a fundamental moment of the match. In a stroke of unfortunate luck, Rublev broke a string when serving at 3-4, 30-40, and Medvedev ran away from there to secure his 19th consecutive victory dating back to last year’s Paris Masters.
After completing the match, Medvedev required a quick treatment on his left quad for cramping.
"I had to not show it. I managed to make some big serves and then at the end, it locked completely," he shared. "The three last points when I was getting ready for the serve, I could not really move my left leg, so it was not easy. I knew if I would lose the game, he was going to see it, so I'm happy that I won the game."
The Russian, whose unbeaten stretch now includes 11 victories over Top 10 opposition, is through to his first major semifinal away from Flushing Meadows. With his run, Medvedev is projected to surpass Dominic Thiem at No. 3 in the rankings for the first time. The 24-year-old awaits the winner of 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal and 2019 semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The defeat marked Rublev's first of 2021 after opening the season 8-0. Said the world No. 8 on his winless head-to-head record against Medvedev, " We're going to play I hope for many, many years, so at least once I think I will have a chance (laughing). At the US Open I had chances; I had set points. Here I had break points. And then one day, it's going to be my day."