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Tennis News • Tsitsipas Wins Over Medvedev • But That’s Not The Real Story From The Nitto ATP Finals In London

By Alix Ramsay

The young ‘uns are growing up fast. As Messrs Djokovic, Nadal and Federer try to hang on to their positions at the top of the tennis pecking order, preserving a domination that started 16 years ago with Fed’s first Wimbledon win and was then reinforced and expanded by Rafa’s first Roland Garros and Djoko’s first Australian Open, the new boys are getting stronger.

But this lot are slightly different. For most of those 16 years, we have watched and listened as the champions developed into legends and all had nothing but praise and respect to heap upon each other. We all knew that, in the background, they had their rivalries and squabbles; we knew who would be sending a Christmas card to who and who wouldn’t, but in public, it was one big love-in. Not so much with new boys.

For a start, Stefanos Tsitsipas can’t stand Daniil Medvedev. And Daniil certainly doesn’t take any prisoners.

It all stems from a ruck back in 2018. They were playing in Miami and Stef was putting pressure on Daniil’s serve. He hit a net cord in a rally, the rally continued for a few more strokes and Stef got his reward: three break points. He was pumped. Daniil was…well, a slightly less polite word beginning with ‘p’.

“He start looking at me, telling me to apologise for what I just did,” Stef recalled. “It was Love-40. Triple break point for me to get back into the match. And after that, I think I didn’t win a single game. He did get into my head, and I was very frustrated that it did go this way.

“He start telling me that what I do is unsportsmanlike. I tried not to pay attention, because I knew that it was something that he wanted, something intentional, something that he wanted to pass to me. Somehow it did affect me.”

From that day on, Stef could not find a way to beat Daniil and as they faced each other in their opening match at the Nitto ATP Finals, Daniil had won five times on the bounce (and that in itself did little for relations between the two men). But then on Monday afternoon, Stef made his breakthrough: he beat Daniil 7-6, 6-4. And he was delighted. Daniil less so.

“I think just general energy was not the way I wanted,” the Russian said. “And talking about energy, I’m not talking only about physical. Mentally I was missing something. I didn’t have good energy enough to get the win today.

“I’m struggling a little bit with finding back my level I had in USA and Shanghai and St. Petersburg, which is, I should say, I think normal for any sportsman, and that’s what is amazing about top three, big three and Murray before, that even when you kind of look at them and you think, OK, they are not playing as good as they can, they still win these matches.

“That’s what I’m missing right now, and that’s what I’m going to try to work on and still have two matches to come. Hopefully I can play them better than today.”

Since Wimbledon, Daniil has been metronomically consistent. He plays, he wins; he plays again, he wins again. From the start of Washington in the second week of August to the end of Shanghai in the middle of October, he lost just three matches, all of them finals. And two of them were to Rafa, the last being at the US Open. He was relentless. But such a workload takes its toll and since beating Sascha Zverev to win in China, he has not been able to reignite that spark that helped him dig out victory from some improbable situations.

“I lost the momentum a little bit, but I’ll try my best to get it back,” Daniil said. “I should say I’m quite confident that at one moment I will get it back. The other question is, is it going to be this tournament or the next one?”

Stef won by dint of being aggressive. Chances were few and far between but when he saw one, he pounced on it. He attacked the net, he ripped his ground strokes and, feeling calmer than he thought possible, he took control in the first set tiebreak and engineered the only break of the match in the second set. Yet such an impressive win did not make him feel any kindlier towards his Russian rival.

“Our chemistry definitely isn’t the best that you can find on the tour,” Stef said, diplomatically. “It just happens with people: it’s not that you can just like everyone.

“It’s not that I hate him. I guess, as he said, we will not go to dinner together.”

On a happier theme, Stef was both pleased with himself and proud of himself for the way he had tackled such a huge obstacle in his debut at the Tour Finals.

There was every reason to be nervous stepping out into the massive O2 arena for the first time and there were five, depressing, nagging reasons (the most recent being in the Shanghai semi-finals) why he should have felt like the underdog against the Russian. Yet when his moment came, Stef was controlled, calm and unstoppable.

“It’s a victory that I craved for a long time now, and it’s great that it came at this moment,” he said. “I felt very relaxed today. I don’t know why. Just the importance of me standing on this court just relaxes me, for some reason. I feel really comfortable, and I felt like I had nothing to be afraid of.

“I knew that I was in good shape and in good form. I learned from my previous mistakes in Shanghai. I remember coming out of my match in Shanghai against him and saying to my coach that things are going to be different next time. And they did prove to be different.

“So that makes me very happy that I committed to what I said.”

And committing to what he had said earlier, he was off to celebrate his first Tour Finals win sans Mr Medvedev. They really are different, this new crop of budding superstars.

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