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U.S. Open: Fans finally warm up to Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev hits a backhand in the first

Daniil Medvedev hits a backhand in the first set against Rafael Nadal during the men's final at the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Sunday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Daniil Medvedev didn’t get off to a good start with the New York crowd at this U.S. Open. During his first three matches he collected a torrent of boos and ran up $19,000 in fines for surly behavior.

By Sunday evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium there were a few chants of “Let’s go Med,” maybe not necessarily the start of a love affair with New York fans, but certainly a sign of their respect for the way he took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the final. Medvedev was on his best behavior on Sunday night, and on his best game at that.

And in the end, their was mutual respect.

“I know earlier in the tournament I said some things in a bad way,” said Medvedev at the trophy ceremony as his new fans cheered loudly. “But now because of you guys I’m here in the final. Tonight will always be in my mind, played in biggest court in tennis world. You guys were pushing me to prolong this match. Because of you guys, I was fighting like hell.

It was a complete 180 from the fan reaction the first Friday of the tournament when Medvedev was playing against Feliciano Lopez in Armstrong Stadium. His actions there cost him $9,000 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct when he snatched his towel out of the hands of a ball person and for a visible obscenity when he held up his middle finger by the side of his head in defiance of the crowd.

As the fans booed him, he egged them on, arms wide open and calling on them to keep the derision coming.

After he won the fans continued to boo him when he came on court for a television interview.

“I won because of you,” he told them, to more and more booing. "I want all of you to know when you sleep tonight, I won because of you.

All the energy you're giving me right now, I want you to know, it will give me energy for my next five matches. The more you do this, the more I will win for you guys.”

As Medvedev continued to go to-toe-toe with Nadal on Sunday, the fans continued to warm to the 23-year-old Russian. Moving his 6-6 frame with grace and speed, Medvedev hung in with the dogged Nadal at every point, and the fans started to gravitate to his side. That’s not so unusual. Open fans want more and more tennis, and when Nadal had taken the first two sets, they wanted Medvedev to extend the match.

When he did, they cheered even more, all the way to the end.

“It’s electric,” said Medvedev of the atmosphere that surrounded him and the warmth he felt. “I can also change. I am a human being. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”

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