Russian to meet Novak Djokovic after 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory
Semi-final triumph is 20th successive win for Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev is the irresistible force of tennis, and he will meet Novak Djokovic, the immovable object of Melbourne Park, in Sunday’s Australian Open decider following a clinical semi-final victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas. The fourth-seeded Russian was on another level to the fifth-seeded Greek as he cruised to his 20th straight victory – 12 of which have come against top 10 rivals, and include titles at the ATP Cup, ATP Finals, and Paris Masters.
The 25-year-old struck more than double the number of winners and committed almost half the number of unforced errors in winning 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. He was patient and precise against an opponent that looked out of puff following his marathon quarter-final against Rafael Nadal.
With his lean frame, long tousled hair, and headband, Tsitsipas looks like Björn Borg rendered for an ultra-modern video game. But the similarities do not extend to the backhand. Borg famously used two hands, Tsitsipas only one, and coming into the match it was responsible for the three fastest backhands of the tournament so far. Here it let him down with 16 unforced errors on that side compared to just three winners.
Melbourne claims to have the largest Greek population of any city outside Greece, so it was little surprise that Tsistipas had the crowd on his side. Chants of “Tsitsipas, Hellas!” rang out in a stadium studded with blue football shirts and flags. They did their best to rouse their hero, especially during a third set revival, but their cries drifted into the ombre blue sky.
To borrow a football cliche, Medvedev moves well for a big man. He’s six feet, six inches but light on his feet, and operates with an economy of movement. He’s unhurried, efficient, crisp. His mental coach, Francisca Dauzet, has previously explained that “his mind is very big. It is very complex, like a computer. It has many things and he can join all the points in one second.”
This real-time point decryption was applied almost immediately. “During today’s match I saw that as soon as I was moving him around the court it was not easy for him,” Medvedev explained on court afterwards. “As soon as I saw it in the first set that became my go-to straightaway.”
“He is a player who has unlocked pretty much everything in the game,” a downbeat Tsitsipas conceded. “He tricks you. He plays the game really smart.”
This manifested in superb courtcraft to earn a break-point in the fifth game, and again when unpicking Tsitsipas’s serve to love to move up 5-2 in the second set. That humiliation caused Tsitsipas to hurl a bottle of water that exploded on contact with the floor, much to Medvedev’s amusement.
That was as close to conflict as this contest came, despite it featuring one of the more acrimonious rivalries on tour. This pair first came to verbal blows in Miami 2018 when Medevdev unloaded after victory. “He’s a small kid who doesn’t know how to fight,” he chided Tsitsipas under the chair umpire’s nose. “Our chemistry definitely isn’t the best that you can find on the tour, Tsitsipas remarked recently. “It just happens with people, it’s not that you can just like everyone.”
Medevdev wasn’t broken until midway through the third set, and for a glimmer the crowd sprang to life. Uncharacteristic errors energised Tsitsipas and a second improbable comeback seemed possible. Medvedev extinguished it with three consecutive games to close out the match. It was another supreme example that this once volatile maverick was now a serious player. “I am happy I managed to keep my nerves because I didn’t make so many bad choices,” he explained, with his usual look of arch detachment on his face.
Unsurprisingly, confidence is building around Medevdev. His coach Gilles Cervara spoke before Christmas, following the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals. “This result proves that Daniil can go further,” he said. “Even if the road will be long and winding. With the way he played for those two tournaments, now we have this precious feeling, that he can do it. He can win Slams.”
Progress in sport is usually long and winding, especially in tennis, a sport predicated on an obstacle interrupting the progress of straight lines. It is commonplace for careers to wend and wane before a moment of enlightenment or an accumulation of experience returns the traveller to the path. Medvedev has survived his trial and is ready to collect his reward.
“I just hope that I am going to go out there, show my best tennis,” Medvedev said, looking forward to a mouthwatering encounter with Djokovic. “As we see, I can win some big names if I play good.”