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Tennis Journalist Alix Ramsay Shares a Few Thoughts on Daniil Medvedev

“I like this challenge, and I’m going to try to make this challenge happen, which is winning this tournament,” 2023 Indian Wells finalist Daniil Medvedev said. Photo credit: Rob Stone/@RobStoneTennis

Daniil Medvedev – the ATP’s secret weapon (if only the ATP knew it)

By Alix Ramsay

For the past 20 years, men’s tennis has lived the dream. The golden age of the sport saw Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic scoop up the grand slam titles in armfuls and take turns in dominating the rankings. They were a self-fuelling news factory.

Andy Murray, too, was part of this. True, he won considerably fewer major titles (three to Federer’s 20, Nadal’s 22 and Djokovic’s 24) but, in all, he contested 11 grand slam finals and spent a 41-week spell as the No.1.

During these golden decades Federer was the consummate ambassador – suave, sophisticated, urbane – while Nadal was humble and grounded, win or lose. Murray was the voice of reason in everything, demanding fairness, equality and diversity – a “new man” as they used to call them. Djokovic, meanwhile, was the relentless winning machine who proffered the occasional political opinion (his players’ union, for example) and then went back thrashing the living daylights out of the opposition.

It was a golden age on the court and in the interview room. Put any one of those four up in front of a microphone and camera and you had a story.

But those days are all but over. Federer retired in 2022; Nadal has said this will probably be his last year on the tour and Murray has made it clear that he is unlikely to play on beyond this summer. Djokovic is the juggernaut that keeps on rolling but at the age of 36-going-on-37, he cannot roll forever.

Suddenly, the ATP has a new challenge: how to sell the sport as easily as before. Carlos Alcaraz is a star but he is still young. His English is good but not good enough yet to express complex ideas (that will come with time and shows up us, the lazy English speakers, because we have little or no Spanish). Jannik Sinner is another sensational player but he is quiet, reserved and a bit shy (except with a racket in his hand and a major title to fight for). Who turn to for instant coverage? May we present Daniil Medvedev.

The inhabitants of the press room are a strange bunch. We can be grumpy, belligerent, extremely annoying and, in some cases, borderline insane (your current correspondent excepted, natch). But ask around the press room about Daniil most people brighten up. We like him: he’s very sharp, he is very funny and he is one hell of a player.

Daniil is a one off. For us, he is gold dust. He will give us a story. Yet he is sometimes regarded as just the bloke who lost three Australian Open finals. He did win the US Open in 2021 but that was when Djokovic was exhausted emotionally and physically in the final as he tried to win the Grand Slam in Olympic year. Daniil doesn’t get half the credit he deserves.

Photo credit: Rob Stone/@RobStoneTennis

His game is not what you would call textbook due in no small part to his 6ft 6ins frame, most of it legs and arms. When those long levers start whirling around the back of the court, he looks like a windmill on wheels. His reach is staggering; his defence is eyepopping and then when he unleashes one of those thumping, flat winners, the result is inevitable. Unless, of course, he misses and has a meltdown.

The meltdowns happen from time to time and are almost as entertaining to watch as the rallies. Running dialogues with the umpire in English; more of the same in French to his coach, Gilles Cervara (who has been known to get fed up and simply walk off court) and then an unfiltered explanation – with apologies for any bad behaviour – in the interview room afterwards. It is all part of the Medvedev play list.

That is what makes the world No.4 so entertaining. There is no side to Medvedev: what you see is what you get. He says what he thinks; he takes on a question and answers it with thought and candour. He is polite and funny. Where other players either dodge the issue or try to say “the right thing”, Daniil tells you what he thinks. In a world of relatively bland young men chasing trophies, ranking points and money, the Russian is a rare character.

He made his way into the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Wednesday with a controlled, comprehensive win over Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4.

That in itself was nothing unusual (it was his seventh win over the Bulgarian out of the past 10) but that he did it so easily in the desert was something to savour. It was his first daytime match, the sun was shining and the court was, finally, playing fast. He was a very happy man.

This time last year, he hated the Indian Wells courts, even though he reached the final. The court surface itself is slow while the balls still ping through the dry, desert air with alarming alacrity. It’s not a happy mix for anyone.

But even then, as he moaned about the speed of the court (snails moved faster) and then went for a bathroom break, he created a story, telling the umpire, Mohamed Lahyani: “I’m gonna pee as slow as this court is. So you can take 25 minutes. The court is slow so I go slow.” Daniil was making his point in a very particular way. This man has true talent, not just with a racket.

It is not that he does not like Indian Wells or the tournament – far from it. It is just that when the court is playing slow (usually when the temperature drops and the wind whips sand across the surface, slowing conditions even more), he gets frustrated.

“It’s a tough challenge for me to play on Indian Wells courts,” he explained. “When I’m in the moment, I prefer not to have challenges. But then when I sit back, I know that challenges are what make it even sweeter to try to win, try to go far. Like last year was unbelievable. I like this challenge, and I’m going to try to make this challenge happen, which is winning this tournament.”

Whether achieves that or not this week only time will tell and, in truth, it does not really matter. In Daniil Medvedev, the ATP has a true star. Alcaraz and Sinner are the new leaders of the young generation (with Holger Rune scampering after them) but the man who can help sell tennis to the public is Medvedev. If only the ATP knew it.