Thursday, October 7, 2021 - Daniil Medvedev poses for a portrait during Media Day on day 5 of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
Daniil Medvedev needed a place to practice, a stopover between Team Europe’s dominant run at the Laver Cup in Boston and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. So the Russian’s coach, Gilles Cervara, and his agent, Loic Martin, reached out to Pac-12 power UCLA and lined up a week’s worth of hitting sessions at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the university’s Westwood campus.
Medvedev, who briefly studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations before earning a degree at the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism, suddenly found himself back in school.
“There were, like, 10 different students practicing with me,” said Medvedev. “They all know how to play good tennis. We’ve all seen college players become Top-100 players, Top 300, Top 500. It’s a very good level to practice with.”
Patrick Zahraj, Karl Lee, Alexander Hoogmartens and Eric Hahn were among the lucky Bruins who got to exchange groundstrokes with the Russian star.
“I saw him walking around the campus with all the kids. He’s so young looking, he looks like one of the students,” said longtime UCLA head coach Billy Martin, now in his 29th year with the program. “Some people recognized him, but I think he kind of liked the fact that he blended in and didn’t get swarmed.”
UCLA, of course, boasts a rich tennis history. The Bruins have won 16 NCAA team titles, churning out a host of pros over the years, including Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, BNP Paribas Open co-founder Charlie Pasarell and Justin Gimelstob. As fate would have it, Medvedev’s first-round opponent in Indian Wells is none other than Mackenzie McDonald, a UCLA alum who swept the singles and doubles at the NCAA Championships in 2016. Also in the 2021 draw are former Bruins Maxime Cressy and Marcos Giron.
“It was a unique experience for us,” said Martin, who in his playing days reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 1977. “It’s so fun for these guys to watch professionals at that high a level, concentration-wise, work ethic-wise, their preparation. These are the top pros and they do it incredibly well. That really rubs off on the college guys.”
Could Medvedev imagine himself as a collegiate star in the U.S., a D1 recruit strolling along UCLA’s manicured walkways, books (and racquets) in hand?
“It’s tough to say,” said Medvedev, 25. “Of course, if you want to be a Top-10 or Top-20 player, and you really believe you can, you should try at 18 years old to go professional, play Futures, Challengers. It almost takes away the possibility of really studying every day like they do there. But if you want a second choice, if you feel like you’re not succeeding in the pros, this is good path.”
Medvedev, who earlier this year became the first World No. 2 not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray in more than a decade-and-a-half, clearly made the right decision by turning pro in 2014. Last month, he made good on his third trip to a major final, stymying Djokovic’s attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam and capturing the biggest title of his career.
The irony is, after pocketing $2.5 million in prize money for his history-halting efforts in New York, Medvedev can’t seem to pay for a meal anymore.
“I don’t know why, but a lot of people try to pay for me in restaurants,” said Medvedev. “Of course, I try to refuse it because I don’t see why I should accept it from people I don’t know. But sometimes the waiter comes and says, ‘You cannot pay anything more because it’s already been paid.’ It’s pretty funny, but also strange in a way.”
In addition to his team triumphs at the ATP Cup and Laver Cup, Medvedev is chasing his fifth title of the year in the California desert, adding to his trophies from Marseille, Mallorca, Toronto and the US Open.