Daniil Medvedev remembers how close he was to letting slip his first ATP Tour title at the 2018 Sydney International. The Russian led home favourite Alex de Minaur 4-0 in the deciding set and served for the trophy at 5-4, watching both leads disappear before ultimately triumphing 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.
“Probably two years [before that] I would have just said, ‘I don’t want this anymore’, and I would lose 7-5,” Medvedev said on ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “But I managed to win it, my first title.”
Ever since, Medvedev has been a man on a mission, rapidly climbing the FedEx ATP Rankings. The Russian learned the importance of mental resilience, proving to be one of the most difficult players to beat on the ATP Tour the past two seasons. Since the start of 2018, he has 110 tour-level wins.
“Every one-on-one sport is all about mentality. Every tournament that you play, to win it you need to win five matches against five real guys. All of them want to win this tournament. You need to be stronger than them,” Medvedev said. “You need to break each of these guys mentally every match and that’s really tough, especially in [the] semi-finals and finals where you play top players and they try to break you and they are better at it. It’s only you against your opponent.”
Medvedev arrived in Sydney two years ago as World No. 84 and he had never ascended higher than World No. 48.
“I managed to win my first title and I think it gave me a big push in the year,” Medvedev said. “The push was not straight away, but I think this meant a lot for the season.”
The Moscow-born Medvedev won three titles in 2018, including an ATP 500 breakthrough at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, where he only lost five service points in the final against Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori.
Last season proved even better. Medvedev, who won a Tour-leading 59 matches, at one point reached the final in six consecutive tournaments he played, claiming his first two ATP Masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati and Shanghai. Last September, he reached a career-high World No. 4 after making his first Grand Slam final at the US Open.
“The past two-and-a-half years I tried to be really professional in everything I do. I dedicated my life to tennis, the small details,” Medvedev said. “I want to be better, I want to play better. I want to win more matches than I win even now. That’s my goal and that’s what I’m working for.”
Medvedev doesn’t have one particular shot that blows people away. He could have a great serving match and trouble opponents with his flat two-handed backhand. But like he saw first-hand playing De Minaur in the 2018 Sydney final, a competitive spirit could be just as useful as a forehand or backhand. The whole ATP Tour knows to beat Medvedev, you need to earn it. He doesn’t believe his dream 2019 run was lucky.
“Winning so many matches is not just luck. If I would have won one tournament in Cincinnati and then lost everything in the first round, then we can say, ‘Okay maybe I was just lucky [to be in] good shape in Cincinnati,’” Medvedev said. “I am happy to maintain my level and hopefully I can do it for many more months and years.”