The piped-in crowd noise at this fan-free United States Open won’t be anything near the shouts — some of joy, some of fury — generated last year by Daniil Medvedev.
He antagonized the crowd in his third-round win over Feliciano López, basking in boos that he encouraged during his on-court interview. Then he battled to the fifth set of the final against Rafael Nadal, and had New York in the pocket of his Lacoste shorts.
For Medvedev, it was “a great roller coaster” that showed the different sides of his personality.
“I didn’t try to, say, ‘OK, sorry, guys, that was not me.’ I did mistakes; I admit it. But that’s me,” Medvedev said. “And then, finally by fighting, playing good tennis, maybe being funny, but again, not being another person, not trying to hide something, they were cheering me at the end.”
With Nadal not competing in this U.S. Open, the third-seeded Medvedev stands apart as an obvious threat to return to the final, where he could face top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who has not lost a match this year.
Medvedev cruised in his first round match on Tuesday, beating Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Though there was no crowd to please, Medvedev still pulled off an impressive no-look passing shot for his own amusement.
Medvedev’s second round opponent will be Christopher O’Connell, who is ranked No. 116.
Medvedev’s run to the U.S. Open final, along with titles in two other big tournaments around that time, helped vault him into the top five in the men’s ranking. His success in New York was no fluke, even though his unusual wielding of his lanky limbs can make his laser shots look lucky.
“You wouldn’t say from a tennis coach’s perspective that he is an ideal player for his shots, but he does everything so well,” said Aljaz Bedene, who lost to Medvedev last week in the third round of the Western & Southern Open. “He moves well, he serves well, he’s tall. Even if his shots look odd at times, he hits everything so well.”
Tennys Sandgren, a 2018 and 2020 Australian Open quarterfinalist, recalled marveling at Medvedev the first time he saw him, on a practice court in Lyon, France, three years ago.
“He was hitting them so hard and so flat,” Sandgren said. “I was like: ‘What is this? What are these levers moving this way?’”
Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara, said that “Daniil has this unusual technique because of his unusual body.”
“The technique works with his body, his biomechanics, and also his psychology and mentality,” Cervara added. “It’s a system: All four things go into that technique.”
Djokovic, who lost twice last year to Medvedev and won a bruising four-set match against him at the Australian Open, said that despite “not the best-looking technique” on his forehand, Medvedev’s unshakable backhand makes engaging him in metronomic rallies a mistake.
“It’s kind of cat-and-mouse when you play him,” Djokovic said. “You’re really trying to change the depth and not just go kind of left-right, because he likes the rhythm.”
Medvedev did not play any of the exhibition events held during the tour’s five-month stoppage, but looked sharp in his three matches last week at the Western & Southern Open. He led Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-1, 4-3, before losing their quarterfinal.
“My muscles are going to learn from it,” Medvedev said after that loss. “They are going to remember what it is to play these tough matches.”
Aside from his practices, Medvedev got his competitive kicks during the tour stoppage by playing a mobile trivia game, only ever wanting to compete against other people. He excelled, fittingly, on questions in the sports category. (He enjoyed watching hockey, snooker and other sports with his father when he was a child.)
On the court, Medvedev can generate showstopping speed, even catching opponents off-guard when they think the point has been won.
“We’ve seen highlights where players stopped playing and he still got there and won the point,” Bedene said of Medvedev. “It’s amazing. Besides having a strong serve, his movement is above any others.”
Medvedev said it was too bad fans would not be able to react to his game in person in New York because he thought he had done enough to win them over.
“Of course, it’s going to be really sad without the New York crowd,” Medvedev said of playing this year. “Because I think at the end of what happened that this year they would be a lot for me, I hope.”