“Everybody’s talking about how they need new guys, something new, so I gave them something new: I don’t celebrate my wins. I just stay calm, I do my job, and bam, done.”
It’s been years now that tennis fraternity has been talking about wanting the younger generation to challenge the Big Three. And a decade has gone by. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have shared 33 majors among themselves in the last decade and won all the 16 Grand Slams in the last four years.
They came, they conquered, and further etched their names into greatness. But with the beginning of the new decade, tennis will and finally have someone who holds the full potential to challenge the famed troika even under toughest of situations.
Unlike all other NextGen stars, Daniil Medvedev was never the most talked-about guy on the tour. He did not just simply burst into the tennis fraternity like the Zverevs or the Thiems or the Tsitsipases who have long been touted to slay the Big Three. Instead, his was a story of rising through the ranks. Having made his main-draw debut in 2015, Medvedev won his first Grand Slam match in 2017 and before his true ascent began in 2018. He won three titles that year, became Russia's No.1 player and ended the season with most hard-court wins (38) and titles ahead of Federer, Djokovic and Karen Khachanov. Yet Medvedev failed to get the spotlight. But all until the North American hard-court swing this year.
He reached four straight finals (in Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati and New York City) this American summer, becoming only the third tennis player after Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi to achieve the feat, while winning two titles (Citi Open and Western & Southern Open) en route to which he had even defeated Djokovic. And then, entered US Open 2019 as the fifth-seeded player, the tournament that changed his career.
After a controversial start that saw the New York crowd jeering on each point he bagged, Medvedev left a hero with the same Flushing Meadows echoing his name despite losing (barely) to Nadal in an epic thriller. Medvedev followed up his success in North America with his first-ever trophy on home soil, at the St Petersburg Open, before he won a second straight title at the Shanghai Masters.
But what has made 6’6” tall Medvedev so effective? There is no elaborate motion on his serve, he adds no spin to his groundstroke, nor does he tend to change the direction of his shots. For the 23-year-old Russian, he has the ability to cover the entire court with his long wingspan and pounds cross-court returns with great ease, precision and at a disturbingly consistent rate. And he is simply invincible with his long baseline rallies. The one area of concern for the youngster was, however, his net game, which he had overcome immensely in the match against Nadal.
Furthermore, Medvedev is mentally a strong competitor which was evident from his game against one of the toughest and most stubborn competitors on tour, Nadal, in the US Open final. Thiem had started off on a great note against the Spaniard in last French Open final, showing immense strength, pace and promise, but lacked intensity towards the end. For Medvedev, he has started off on a slower note, losing the first two sets and leaving Nadal on the brink of an easy victory. But Medvedev, who was playing his first Grand Slam final and having lost four of his five-setters earlier, bounced back in style with a performance of the highest daring, winning more on his service game and giving Nadal a run for his title before sending his final forehand return long.
Medvedev followed it up with two more titles, as he joined the Big Three and Murray in the elite list of most consecutive ATP finals. More so, his 31-3 win-loss record since August, which includes victory in 18 consecutive sets, saw him surpass Federer to take the third spot in the ATP Race to London.
But more than just his numbers and the titles, it is his consistency at the highest order for a lengthier span that makes him a potential threat for the Big Three, something that the Zverevs or the Thiems or the Tsitsipases have lacked. To defeat Nadal or Federer or Djokovic, one must maintain that level of intensity for every tournament he enters, and Medvedev has shown that he can do that for long. And who knows, probably 2020 might see the young Russian emerging as the first tennis player in the last four years to break the hegemony.