At last year’s U.S. Open, Daniil Medvedev played the villain. At this year’s U.S. Open he’s merely playing the contender.
And what a contender he seems to be.
After beating Russian countryman Andrey Rublev in straight sets Wednesday on Arthur Ashe Stadium, he’s headed into the semifinals for a second straight year and will play the winner of the late night match between Dominic Thiem and Alex de Minaur.
Rublev put up the good fight, was every bit the equal in the rallies, but he never forged a single break point, and that led to a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (5) win in the quarterfinal for Medvedev, who hasn’t lost a set in five matches. Rublev’s undoing was leading 5-1 in the first set tiebreak before Medvedev won seven of the next eight points.
There was concern near the end of the third set when Medvedev started to cramp. He took some anti-cramping medication and had the physio come out to work on his right shoulder during a medical timeout. The physio returned on the next changeover to massage his thighs. He had just enough left in the tank to close out the win.
“I just got a little bit tired at the end of the third set with really physical match that we had,” Medvedev said. “My shoulder started to hurt just a little . . . I call the physio, so he took care of it. I was cramping a little bit, so he also massaged me, and it helped a lot. As you saw at the end, I was able to be 100%.”
At last year’s Open Medvedev drew the ire of the New York fans. In fact, he invited it.
In a third-round match against Feliciano Lopez on Armstrong Stadium he angrily snatched a towel from a ballperson, and when the crowd booed him for it, he flipped an obscene gesture. After winning the match the boos rained down. Medvedev waved his arms, gesturing for the crowd to pile it on and then told them to keep doing it in the postmatch interview. He explained that their energy, however negative, was the reason he won.
They kept booing him all the way through the tournament, and he kept winning. There were more boos when he walked on Ashe Stadium for the final against Rafael Nadal, but a strange thing happened. After losing the first two sets, he rallied to win the next two and the jeers changed to cheers. He didn’t win the title, but he won over the crowd.
With nobody to cheer or jeer at this pandemic-impacted Open, Medvedev seems to have found his inner inspiration.
“I think it's just different. It's not that it's easier or more difficult, but for sure it's always disappointing for us tennis players to play without the fans,” he said. “I said it many times, I'm really disappointed that there is no crowd in New York this year because I hope I would get some love starting from the first day.”