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US Open 2019: Daniil Medvedev finally comes of age

ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

Medvedev greets Nadal at the net after falling short in an epic 2019 US Open final
Medvedev greets Nadal at the net after falling short in an epic 2019 US Open final

Back in January 2019, Daniil Medvedev started his season with a run to the Brisbane final where he fell short against Kei Nishikori. At the Australian Open, the opening Grand Slam of the year, the Russian, seeded for the first time, reached his maiden fourth-round at the Australian Open where he took a set off eventual winner, Novak Djokovic.

Medvedev won his first title of the season and the fourth of his career by beating Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the Sofia title match. Entering the clay-court swing with just two career match wins on the surface, the right-hander reached his maiden Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Monte Carlo where he celebrated his first win over a world no. 1 by outwitting Djokovic before his run was ended in the semis by another Serbian, Dusan Lajovic.

The next week, Medvedev reached his first final on clay, where he came up short against Dominic Thiem in Barcelona.

Top-ten debut

Medvedev in action at the Queens Club in London
Medvedev in action at the Queens Club in London

The defeat in Spain kick-started a debilitating five-match losing streak which encompassed successive opening-round losses in Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros and Stuttgart, thereby threatening to derail a promising start to the season.

Yet, Medvedev managed to arrest the rot with a win over Fernando Verdasco in the opening round at Queens, where a run to the semifinal at the grass-court tournament propelled the Russian to a top-ten spot in the ATP rankings.

Medvedev matched his best run at Wimbledon from a year ago with another third-round showing at the grass-court major, where he recovered from a two-set deficit against Pierre Hugues Herbert only to be edged out in the decider.

Maiden Masters 1000 title

The youngster embarked on his North American sojourn with four consecutive straight-set wins at Washington DC before going down in two tiebreak sets in the final against the mercurial Nick Kyrgios.

The next week, four more straight-set wins took Medvedev to his maiden Masters 1000 final at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, where defending champion, Rafael Nadal overwhelmed the Russian in a lopsided 6-3 6-0 title match.

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Medvedev was in action for a third-straight week when he entered the Cincinnati Masters. Another run of four consecutive straight-set victories set up a titanic showdown with defending champion, Djokovic. The Russian recovered from the loss of the first set to beat the top-ranked Serb for the second time in the season.

In the process, Medvedev emulated Pat Rafter (2001), Andy Roddick (2003), Roger Federer (2007, 2010, 2014), Djokovic (2011-12, 2015) and Nadal (2013) in becoming the only players since the turn of the century to reach the Coupe Rogers and Cincinnati title clashes in the same season.

 Medvedev poses with his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati
 Medvedev poses with his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati

A day later, Medvedev beat David Goffin in straight sets to become the 69th different player to win a Masters 1000 title. Following his 14th win in 16 matches, in three gruelling weeks on the North American hardcourts, the Russian wisely opted against a title defence at Winston-Salem to arrive fresh at the US Open.

First major final at the US Open

A top-ten seed for the first time at a major, Daniil Medvedev opened his third campaign at Flushing Meadows with a straight-set win over Indian qualifier, Prajnesh Gunneshwaran.

Successive four-set wins over Bolivia's Hugo Dellien and Feliciano Lopez carried the Russian to his second fourth-round match at a major where he beat fellow fourth-round debutant, Dominic Koepfer for the loss of a set to reach his maiden quarterfinal at a Grand Slam.

Medvedev beats 2016 winner Wawrinka in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal
Medvedev beats 2016 winner Wawrinka in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal

Facing 2016 winner, Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in his first major semifinal, Medvedev survived a set-point in the first set en route to a two-set lead. The former champion averted a straight-sets exit by taking the third set but his comeback was cut short as the Russian closed out the match clinically.

Up against Federer's conqueror, Grigor Dimitrov in the last-four, Medvedev saved a set point in the first set before seeing off the Bulgarian in straight sets to join Agassi (1995) and Lendl (1982) as the only players in the Open Era to reach the finals at Washington DC, Coupe Rogers, Cincinnati and Flushing Meadows in the same season.

In the process, Medvedev became the first Russian Grand Slam finalist since Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt at the 2005 Australian Open.

In the title showdown against Nadal, Medvedev made a brisk start by grabbing the first break of the match to take a 2-1 lead. But the Russian couldn't consolidate on the break as the Spaniard returned the compliment in the following game and then repeated the dose in the twelfth game of the set, consequently, taking a one-set lead.

A single break of serve sufficed in the second set as Nadal grew from strength to strength. Medvedev admitted to thinking about his post-match presentation speech after losing serve to trail 2-3 in the third.

But, the Russian quickly regrouped to recoup the break. Games proceeded on serve as Medvedev held to love to take a 6-5 lead. Medvedev sensed the moment to seize on the Nadal serve as he eked out a 0-40 lead and converted his second opportunity to take the third set against the run of play.

In a competitive fourth set, there were no breaks of serve in the first nine games as Medvedev held for a 5-4 lead. Serving to stay in the set, Nadal looked good for a routine hold by taking a 30-0 lead but Medvedev reeled off three straight points and on his first set-point, blasted a brilliant backhand return winner past the stunned Spaniard to force a decider.

Medvedev rued not converting three breakpoints at 1-0 in the fifth as Nadal broke twice to take a seemingly insurmountable 5-2 lead with a double break. In one final twist in the tale, the Russian broke Nadal for 3-5 and saved two championship points to hold for 4-5 before a break point came and went as the Spaniard closed out a 4hr 49min battle royale for his fourth US Open triumph and 19th Grand Slam title.

2019 US Open final
2019 US Open final

Medvedev fell short in his bid to become the first player in 70 years, since Pancho Gonzalez, to win the US Open after losing the first two sets in the final.

The Russian may have lost his fourth-straight five-set match at a Grand Slam tournament but by interspersing gruelling baseline duels against Nadal with occasional forays to the net, Medvedev won many admirers by displaying telltale signs of his growing tactical maturity.

Big serves and fearless hitting off both flanks enabled the Russian to stay toe to toe with his illustrious opponent for large swathes of the title match as the Russian fired 75 winners, broke his Spanish opponent five times. And, he almost pulled off a stunning upset from two-sets down before being narrowly edged out by a player with superior big match pedigree in a classic US Open final for the ages .

Thus, courtesy his exploits in 2019, one feels that Medvedev, the unassuming, unorthodox perplexing artist, has finally come of age and currently looks the best bet to end the Grand Slam stranglehold of the big three.

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