SHANGHAI: Daniil Medvedev is built like a light pole. A walking, talking, racket-swinging feature with a disarming smile. The 6 ft 6′ pro’s play doesn’t come with a statutory warning, designed to damage – flattish groundstrokes, topped by a monster serve. But looks can be deceptive and results are proof. As the 23-year-old Russian’s record will tell you.
Medvedev charged into his sixth straight Tour-level final on a nippy evening with a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 win over Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Shanghai Masters. Medvedev, who leads the men’s game on a number of fronts this season, most wins (58), hardcourt wins (45), ATP Masters 1000 wins (21) and most finals (nine), also clinched his 11th successive tie-break on Saturday.
In Sunday’s final, the red-hot third seed will play German powerhouse Alexander Zverev, who beat Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-4 in another last-four match. Interestingly, for what promises to be a rivalry of the new age, the statistics are a bit skewed in that, in four previous meetings, Medvedev has taken just one set off the German. A record he’ll hope to set right.
The Tsitsipas serve was making all the noise in the opening set of the first semifinal, so much so that the Russian won just two of 26 points on the return on first serves. Medvedev’s strength is the stealth quality of his play. In the ninth game, the 23-year-old came back from 0-40 as Tsitsipas, sensing an opening, went for too much, to allow his opponent a difficult hold. In the tie-break Medvedev did enough when he needed to.
Medvedev, ranked a career-high No.4 in the world, broke at the first opportunity, in the fifth game of the second set. The Russian’s two-hander went past an outstretched Tsitsipas.
The Greek and his team, particularly his father and coach Apostolos, were chatting animatedly, between themselves and with everybody who might’ve been interested. When Tsitsipas held in the seventh game he tried to get the crowd into the contest, orchestrating the cheering. Then when Medvedev served for the match in the tenth game, he fell behind love-40 and the Greek broke on the second opportunity.
Medvedev returned the favour in the next game and turned to the near full house, calling for their support as the Greek had done a few games earlier. In the 12th game, on his second chance to serve for a place in the final, the third seed made no mistake, swatting a forehand winner to shut the door on his opponent.
“When it was love-40 (at 4-all in the first set), I was, like, I shouldn’t have let this happen. But I needed to get out of this and managed really well with five good serves and some great shots after the serve,” Medvedev said, reflecting on his form, particularly at crucial moments, a feature of his play in recent weeks. “Same with second set, losing the game at 5-4 when you’re serving for the match is never easy, but I knew I had to continue, just to try to win the next game. That’s what happened, next two games.”
Medvedev, impressed with his tie-break statistic, called it ‘amazing’. “It means I’m really good in a crucial moments, and that’s why I’m also winning matches,” he said.
For most of the semifinal meeting, the Greek appeared to have the upper hand. Tsitsipas, who has won a set in each of the pair’s four meetings, is yet to beat the Russian.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s just boring, it’s so boring,” Tsitsipas said of playing Medvedev. “I hate myself for putting myself into that kind of situation where I have to play in his own terms and not in my terms. That reminds me of my childhood, when I was 12 years old, playing inside the court. He has a huge serve, and if you manage to get it back, it’s just countless balls inside the court.”