Introducing Daniil Medvedev, tennis’ official enigma wrapped in a mystery. The No.5 seed is the hottest player on the ATP Tour at the moment, and after a year spent in the doldrums, he’s doing what he does best once again.
But what exactly is that?
For starters: torrid tennis. When Medvedev gets going he can be near impossible to stop.
We saw that once again on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open as the former World No.1 notched his 18th consecutive win, 6-3, 7-5 over Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Given the circumstances, Medvedev’s trip to the final four at Indian Wells is unexpected, and a little bit bizarre.
After badly turning his ankle during his 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-5 Round of 16 win over Alexander Zverev on Tuesday, not many expected the No. 5 seed to continue playing at Indian Wells. He ended up rallying past Zverev in three hours and 17 minutes – a true testament to his intestinal fortitude.
Hours later, the 27-year-old limped into the tournament’s main interview room looking like he could use a handful of Advil and a pair of crutches. How could he possibly recover to play the quarterfinals in less than 24 hours? Surely his 2023 BNP Paribas Open was over, the winning streak and his ankle destined to be put on ice until he was healthy again.
A determined Medvedev came out on Wednesday and blanketed the court against Davidovich Fokina, even sliding violently on the gritty hardcourts with his right leg extended when he needed to. Afterwards he said: “When I warmed up it was hurting pretty bad. But I knew I was gonna play.”
Adversity seems to suit Medvedev. When he broke out as a superstar in 2019 he did it in the most unconventional manner. Most tennis players play nice with fans, volleying platitudes and avoiding controversy whenever possible. Not Medvedev, he put his finger to his lips, shushing the New York faithful, then dared them to root against him.
Plot twist: he had them eating out of his hand by the end of his five-set US Open final with Rafael Nadal, and he has had their hearts ever since.
This week at Indian Wells, Medvedev has vehemently complained about the speed of the courts. He loves Tennis Paradise with all his heart, but the courts? Too darn slow for him, he says. One might think that feeling that way would be a recipe for an early loss.
Not in this case. Medvedev has steamed through the draw, putting up a career-best performance at Indian Wells. He’s done it with brilliant counterpunching and timely tennis, striking searing passing shots from deep in the backcourt in the most unconventional manner.
Former World No.1 Andy Roddick hit the nail on the head when he was asked about Medvedev’s comments.
“I love it because it never affects the way he competes,” he said while commentating for Tennis Channel. “We don’t give him enough credit for his problem solving.”
Slow court, fast court, doesn’t seem to make much difference; when Medvedev is switched on he can produce precision with machine-like consistency and leave his befuddled opponents scratching their heads. One must expect the unexpected when facing Medvedev, but even the well-prepared often find that he’s one step ahead of them.
9 – Daniil Medvedev has reached nine hard courts ATP Masters 1000 semifinals since 2019 – at least three more than any other player in this period. Leader.#TennisParadise #IndianWells | @atptour @ATPMediaInfo pic.twitter.com/HDdagRN4u0
— OptaAce (@OptaAce) March 15, 2023
His tennis is rambunctious at times, his technique raw and asymmetrical, but there is a method to Medvedev’s madness, even if he himself doesn’t always seem to know what it is.
Same goes for his temper. It can run hot, but in the end it comes from the right place. Medvedev is a player that burns to win. He’s shown that at Indian Wells, overcoming physical and mental obstacles in the quest for a crowning achievement.
“This high-intensity sport where you are one-on-one against the opponent brings the heat out of you,” he says. “Some players are capable of controlling it better than the others. Some are controlling it less, like me. Yeah, that’s my character, and that’s my personality, also.”
Medvedev will take to the court against charismatic American Frances Tiafoe in Friday’s semifinals as he bids for his 19th consecutive win and his first final in the California desert. Talk about a hot ticket.