He rallied back from the brink of defeat to almost pull off a stunning coup against Rafael Nadal, without as much as a ‘Come on’ being uttered.
Most of his emotions were conveyed with a shrug of the shoulders or a muted fist-pump towards his players’ box. And yet, when Daniil Medvedev came out for the post-match ceremony, the Russian’s perceived aloofness and cold demeanour towards the partisan New York crowd flipped for the better.
“Before the tournament, maybe I said it in a bad way but today, I mean it in a good way when I say that the crowd’s energy pulled me through to the finals,” he said.
“I said some things in the earlier rounds but that was a mistake. But you guys can see that I’m only human, I make mistakes and I can change.”
The Russian fifth seed, who was appearing in his first Grand Slam final, went on to concede that after the match, while clips from each of Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam triumphs were being shown on the giant screen, he wondered that if he had won, “what would they have shown?”
Further, when asked about the strategy at play which helped him clinch the third set and prolong the match, Medvedev said: "To be honest, I was already preparing my speech in my head, like what am I going to say as the finalist because I thought that I'll be beaten in the next 20 minutes."
Self-deprecating humour is an effortless charm as it shows that the person isn’t too high on himself. However, post the men’s singles final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev has shown why he must be regarded highly of, possibly as the leader of the pack that is the Next Gen of men’s tennis.
In a match that lasted a little below five hours, the fifth-seeded Medvedev shone for badgering Nadal with the serve and volley routine. In doing so, the Russian never let Nadal attain the imperious rhythm that he does when dictating the play from the baseline as the Spaniard was never allowed to get too comfortable in one spot.
The results of this approach didn’t manifest themselves at the outset. While Medvedev would manage to hold his serve and got the odd break too, there were plenty of slip-ups from him too; errors, forced and unforced, allowed Nadal to stay close and eventually wrest control of the first set 7-5, and the second set 6-3.
None of the inadequacies in Medvedev’s shot-making was as glaring as him frequently erring with his drop shots.
The Russian's drop shots weren’t coming through, finding the net on occasion and if not, sitting up perfectly for the speedy Nadal who would rush to the net and swat the ball with disdain.
The commentators chastened the Russian with a paternal instinct, goading him to give up on the deft touch, play safe and wait for the errors.
However, Medvedev, perhaps aware about Nadal relishing the prospect of long rallies from the baseline, kept the change-ups coming, one way or another.
In trusting his instincts and persisting with them, Medvedev soon found the dexterity he needed to ace the deft touch.
Finally, after trailing by two sets to love, Medvedev started landing the drop shots with his deceptive wrist-work leaving Nadal wrong-footed and a touch too late on the ball.
Landing the first of those shots for a winner only emboldened Medvedev into finding more and more spaces which he could manoeuvre, the angles he could exploit around the net, for continually unsettling Nadal.
Soon enough, he was trading blows with Nadal at the net, like boxers searching for a gap where they could get a punch through.
On other instances, Medvedev would push Nadal to the deep end with a tight serve and then advance to the net on cue almost. Overhead smashes and around the head forehands ruled the roost when it came to the Russian’s shot-making. The flatter stuff coming down from a height of 6’6” rushed Nadal into committing errors.
Backhand slice, the forehand chop, and the drop shot were some of the frequent change-ups from the Russian who’d play all of the above and then charge towards the net without batting an eyelid.
There wasn’t necessarily a good strike rate in either routine as Nadal would get his passing shots through, here or there. But Medvedev, unperturbed by the same, went ahead, urging himself on when there were few in the crowd to do that job.
In doing so, Medvedev became a template for the mental toughness which is requisite for any athlete in the modern-day sport. To not get swayed from one’s plan of action owing to a few failures but keep up the task continuously.
One shot at a time, one point at a time, one game at a time, and repeat, until the plan starts working. If it doesn’t, too bad! There’ll always be the next match.
Fortunately for Medvedev, his guttural instincts came good in the third set. There wasn’t a big change in strategy but just the consistency coming through and him curbing the unforced errors.
Nadal, serving to stay in the set at 5-6, was down by two breakpoints. Medvedev, now aping his opponent, was standing deep in the court. He got his return in and as Nadal dropped the ball just a bit short, Medvedev swooped in, moving ahead stealthily.
The Russian who had, until now, been engaging in long and tiring cross-court exchanges where his backhand went to the left-handed Nadal’s forehand, opted for the crucial change-up which did the trick.
As Medvedev stood inches shy of the service box, he opted for the down to line winner off his backhand. The plan worked as Nadal found himself on a sticky wicket, unable to bolt when the ball went down his wrong side.
Medvedev had just won the third set 7-5 from the unlikeliest of situations. Were there any major changes he made to his game from the second to the third set? None at all. What pulled the set away from the Spaniard was Medvedev sticking to his guns a bit better than in the previous sets, staving off the unforced errors as he swung hard and fast, uninhibited.
Medvedev, the man of the summer was on the ascendant in the final at Flushing Meadows and soon enough, the crowd came alive to the possibility of an underdog's ever so romantic triumph over a proven Goliath of the sport.
While he may have eventually gone down in five sets 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 4-6 and failed to break the duck for the NextGen in Grand Slam finals, the overall picture from the tournament bodes well for the future of men's tennis.
What with Grigor Dimitrov trumping Federer in five sets in the quarter-finals, and now Medvedev pulling off a stunning reversal in fortunes before a tight five-set loss against Rafael Nadal, men's tennis is bound to throw up some interesting rivalries between those of the old guard and the NextGen who are waiting in the ranks.
Updated Date: Sep 09, 2019 15:28:32 IST