Eight Reasons Why Daniil Medvedev Is The Rightful Master Of The ATP Finals - UBITENNIS
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Eight Reasons Why Daniil Medvedev Is The Rightful Master Of The ATP Finals

The final three matches could have gone either way, but the young Russian was the most complete player and deserved to win. Thiem stuck too much to his guns – it worked initially, but Medvedev was smarter and kept giving him different looks, prevailing in the end.

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Daniil Medvedev (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

The 12-edition-long O2 residency of the ATP Finals ended as it began, with a Russian winner. Daniil Medvedev didn’t even know this was the case, but it was Davydenko himself, now a pundit for a Russian TV channel, who informed him during the post-match interview. Davydenko beat Del Potro 6-3 6-4 in the final after vanquishing his worst nightmare Federer 7-5 in the decider; in the round robin, he lost (7-5 in the decider as well) against Djokovic while defeating Nadal (6-1 7-6) and Soderling (7-6 4-6 6-3). While his victory was quite the surprise at the time, Medvedev’s really wasn’t, because he had already played lights-out tennis in Paris. Now 24 years old, Daniil is no doubt worthy of this title for several reasons.

 

1) He was undefeated in November, winning 10 matches in a row between Bercy and London, including seven against five different Top 10 opponents (he beat Zverev and Schwartzman twice). He ended up notching 2,500 points and winning the ATP Finals without a single defeat, and put in the effort even against Schwartzman, an adversary he played after already securing the top spot in his group – the Argentine was the weakest player in the draw, but Medvedev could have still decided to save some energies for his semifinal encounter with Nadal.

2) The fact that he won the crown as an undefeated champion gains even more significance when we look at the history of the event: the winner lost one match throughout the competition a whopping 25 times (out of 47, because the tournament has taken place 51 times but four of these had no round robin, so the champion had to be undefeated by definition). That’s more than 50 percent of the time, including nine out of ten in the 1990s – Sampras won the tournament five times and always lost a bout.

3) Medvedev is the first ever to win the ATP Finals while defeating the best three players in the world (Djokovic in the group stage, Nadal in the semis and Thiem in the final) on route to success.

4) As for other events, only three times in history had a player ousted the Top 3 in the same tournament – Becker in Stockholm in 1994, Djokovic in Montreal in 2007, and Nalbandian in Madrid later the same year. However, none of them had done it in a tournament as important as the ATP Finals, and no one has ever done it in a Major.

5) Medvedev didn’t lose a set in the group stage, but came from behind in both his knockout matches, another feat that speaks volumes of the value of his success. Nadal even served for the match against him at 5-4 in the second set, but the Russian broke him to love and never let up from then on. Against Thiem, he saved three break points in the second set, but was always on the front foot in the decider. He led 0-30 in the opening game, had three break points in the third and two more in the fifth before finally breaking through on the eighth total occasion – he had wasted a chance in each of the previous sets.  

6) He proved how complete his game is. Despite not being very graceful, he has an effortless style, and moves amazingly well for a 6-foot-6 guy: he has outstanding knee flexibility and can run for hours without wearing himself out, never losing the ability to push those unorthodox groundstrokes (especially the forehand, with a very wide backswing and quite frankly unappealing to watch) deep down the court. Medvedev outlasted both Nadal and Thiem in the respective deciders, and while the advanced age of the Spaniard is an understandable factor in such situations, Thiem’s struggles probably owe to the grueling match he played against Djokovic – he faced the Serbian before Medvedev beat Nadal, but in all likelihood wasted more resources.

7) He led the eight participants in most serving stats, netting more aces, putting more first serves in play and winning more points than anybody else with his second serve. It’s quite the headstart to be able to win so many free points when your main competition has to toil far more to get on the scoreboard. When I say that Medvedev is a complete player (despite his clay-court limitations), I think of the variety of his shots. He can approach the net, often sneaking in the most unexpected situations, such as behind a second serve. He can trade sliced backhands with Nadal and Thiem – he actually outperformed Rafa with the shot, and, while less successful against the US Open champion, he still held his own. He can mix up the speed and net clearance of his groundstrokes like Mecir and Murray did, and he can flatten his shots either crosscourt or down the line.

8) He is most certainly a clever player, both on the court and outside of it.

The Austrian shanked three break points in the second set, and one in particular must have stuck in his memory: Medvedev serve-and-volleyed and barely put a drop volley over the net, but Thiem, despite getting on the ball with ease, put wide a forehand that he could have made. Thiem tried to play with a clear strategy but didn’t have the acumen to change it when things started to go south, something that is never easy to do. I asked this question to the world No.3 in the post-match press conference, although I’m aware that he is more powerful than Medvedev but not as eclectic.

My question was: “Do you regret playing so many sliced backhands?” He didn’t think that was a mistake, though: “I will do the same thing in our next encounter, it’s what I did in all of our previous matches.” Of course, that was a decision he had taken together with his coach, Nicolas Massù, and it seemed to work in the opening two sets, but I think that he should have tried something different at the tail-end of the match, because that particular shot had become very predictable and wasn’t fetching him any more points. It’s the same thing that happened to Nadal on Saturday, a tactical choice that didn’t seem to bother Medvedev: “Nadal probably won just a couple of points with the slice, it didn’t really affect me.”

There is no proof that things would have turned out differently with a different game-plan. However, my impression is that Medvedev realised that Thiem was trying to break his rhythm and adjusted by patiently slicing the ball as well and waiting for the best time to sneak to the net, where he won 28 points out of 37. In the end, Thiem went against his own nature, retreating into a conservative tactic in lieu of detonating one-handers like the one that gave him a double match point in the third set’s tie-breaker against Djokovic. Overthinking is a demanding process and can become costly when a match goes the distance.    

Former Top 15 player Paolo Bertolucci kept calling for greater tactical variety when Medvedev had clearly adapted to the Austrian’s game, but he forgot to add how hard it is to alternate between slice and topspin backhands. After hitting five, six sliced shots, it is very hard to suddenly switch grips for a flat or topspin winner without losing control – as a matter of fact, Thiem tried to do so and the unforced error tally started to grow, and not just on that wing, but also on the forehand side, perhaps because the alternance between grips and ball distances was making him uncomfortable.

The fact is that Thiem was glued to the baseline, while Medvedev did it all, standing far behind the baseline, slicing and flattening his shots, following his serve to the net and even throwing in some chip-and-charge on his opponent’s serve. When he comes to the net, it’s not easy to pass him, because he’s really tall, and his touch is good. While it’s true that Thiem’s tactics worked in the past against the Russian, this line of reasoning doesn’t take into consideration the improvements that Medvedev might have undergone. I’ll stop here, because I don’t want to be thought of as an arrogant journalist who thinks he knows more than an Olympic champion like Massù, who evidently told his player to stick to his guns no matter what.

I’d like to add that I’m happy about the level of play in the knockout phase. Nadal vs Thiem in the group stage was also a good match, but the semis and the final were more vibrant and more open till the end. The three matches were decided by very fine details and circumstances, and they could have gone either way. This is why I think that Nadal, Thiem and Djokovic should be lauded as much as the champion, although this is something that seldom happens in sports. I wish I was there, but I enjoyed myself even though I had to watch on TV, and I hope that our readers can say the same thing. 

During these wretched times, those who could afford it could watch some pretty good tennis in New York (where the final, while not beautiful by any means, was still a nail-biter), Rome, Paris and London. Let’s not forget that, up until three weeks before the Cincinnati-New York tournament began, we still had no certainty whether the season would have resumed in 2020 or not.

I don’t know what will happen with the Australian Open, nobody does, but I hope that the Covid nightmare will be over by the time of the first Turin ATP Finals at the latest, although there is really no way to know how long we will have to keep wearing masks. 

NOTE: Article translated by Tommaso Villa

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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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