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Ricky’s Tennis Update From The Australian Open • From Crazy Kids to Soon-to-Be Champions, Medvedev and Rublev

Childhood friends Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev hold the trophy after winning the ATP Cup final for Russia against Team Italy on Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Ricky Dimon

On the professional circuit, the rivalry between Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev is not exactly epic. They have faced each other four times (three on the main tour, one at the Challenger level). Medvedev is sweeping the head-to-head series 4-0 overall and 9-0 in total sets.

Given how both Russians are currently playing and Rublev’s current trajectory toward matching Medvedev near the top of the sport, there is a chance it could become epic—if not in the Australian Open quarterfinals on Wednesday, then at least in the future.

You know, epic like it used to be.

Dating back to last year’s U.S. Open, where the two good friends also squared off in the quarterfinals, media members’ favorite pastime during zoom press conferences is to ask Medvedev and Rublev about their rivalry in the juniors. They ask about it even more frequently than they ask Novak Djokovic how much he hates Nick Kyrgios and Nick Kyrgios how much he hates Novak Djokovic. They’ll ask and ask until they get satisfactory answers regarding the details of said rivalry.

How much more detail do you want?

“We played at the official 10-and-under tournament in Zhukovka,” Rublev reflected (translated from. Russian). “We played three four-game sets and played for about four hours. Lots of drama. After that, I realized we were both nuts.

“We played lobs; each rally was 10 minutes. We kept pushing those lobs to exhaustion. One of us would screw up a lob and there would be three minutes of crying and racket-throwing. I think we played without line judges, which was good–nobody killed themselves while looking at us. Then another point: 10 minutes of waiting (for someone to miss), three minutes of crying. One of us rolling around on the court after winning the point, the other one crying, ‘Everything is terrible!’ It was three or four hours like this.

“We’d flip out differently. I was throwing rackets, crying, whining. He was throwing rackets but without crying and whining. Instead, he would yell at everything and everyone around–including lines judges. He was nuts like that. He could tell the judge what he thinks of him. Someone would simply pass by and get told to go to hell. I was mostly whining, crying, throwing rackets, grabbing clay from the court and eating it.”

Complete debauchery.

Fast forward more than two decades and nothing—aside from Rublev’s record against Medvedev—is terrible anymore. In fact, things could hardly be going any better for either one.

Andrey Rublev celebrates after winning his third-round match against Feliciano Lopez at the Australian Open. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

As a whole, Russia is positively on top of the tennis world right now. In addition to the individual exploits of their top two stars, the Russians won the second annual ATP Cup earlier this month. One member of that victorious team who did not get any playing time was none other than Aslan Karatsev. Yes, the same Aslan Karatsev who was unheard of at the time of the ATP Cup and is now a household name as one of the most improbable Grand Slam semifinalists ever. With Medvedev and Rublev meeting in the quarters, Russia is guaranteed to boast half of the men’s singles semifinalists at the Australian Open. And, oh yeah, Karen Khachanov can barely get a mention these days when it comes to Russian tennis and he is still a top 20 player for crying out loud!

It’s clear these teammates are feeding off each other (instead of feeding on clay like Rublev apparently used to do), and their success is snowballing into something unprecedented. But they aren’t about to hand out any donations to their friends—at least not when one is on the other side of the net. Heck, Medvedev couldn’t even say for sure that there won’t be any fisticuffs when he faces Rublev in Rod Laver Arena.

“(It) doesn’t matter (if we are great friends),” the world No. 4 assured. “If you can win 0-0-0, you’re going to make it. You’re not going to give two games at the end to say, ‘He’s my close friend, I’m going to give him two games.’ If you have to win 7-6 in the fifth, you’re going to try to make it. Same for him. As I said, after the match or before the match–unless there’s a huge fight during the match, which I doubt–one of us is going to say congrats to the other one.”

It’s all nice and cordial for the most part these days, but that’s not to say debauchery has been completely eliminated. Medvedev’s multiple run-ins with the crowd during his run to the 2019 U.S. Open final were legendary. Rublev can still throw the occasional tantrum when things aren’t going well, and there was even an infamous banana abuse after he lost a set to none other than Medvedev at the 2020 U.S. Open.

But those are few and far between because things are pretty much always going well.

Someone, though, has to lose on Wednesday. And that means there is at least some chance for another meltdown.

But there’s an even better chance that we’ll be seeing Grand Slam titles in their future…perhaps as soon as Sunday night for one of them.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.