Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev finished 2020 as the hottest player on the ATP Tour, but that doesn’t mean the World No. 4 didn’t go through adversity last season.
“I for sure have some problems sometimes, especially when I’m not playing good,” Medvedev said. “I can lose my temper sometimes. I didn’t have one final… and it gets into your mind.”
The Russian won his first four matches at the inaugural ATP Cup and reached the US Open semi-finals, but he entered his final two tournaments of the year with an 18-10 record and no championship match appearances. The 24-year-old’s signature is frustrating his opponents. But as 2020 wore on, it seemed the Russian was mostly frustrating himself with his play.
Medvedev’s impenetrable wall of defence was showing holes, and the effects his unorthodox game had on opponents were not as noticeable as usual. Players slowly began to find their rhythm against the Russian as he lost his.
“Tennis is not an easy sport. It’s tough to explain some things that are happening… When you are down, you need to find the best way to get up fast,” Medvedev said. “I just wanted to show that I’m capable of playing good tennis and beating good guys.”
Medvedev arrived at the Rolex Paris Masters with a 1-3 record at the tournament and departed with his third ATP Masters 1000 title. That gave the Moscow native momentum heading into the Nitto ATP Finals, where he went 0-3 in 2019. Medvedev played some of the smartest and most resilient tennis of his career to become the first player to defeat the top three players in the FedEx ATP Rankings in a single edition of the season finale.
“It’s been an amazing two weeks,” Medvedev said the morning after his London triumph. “Especially [considering] the results I was showing before.”
The fourth seed was impressive in round-robin play, winning all three of his matches in straight sets, including a 6-3, 6-3 triumph against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. But that mattered little in the semi-finals when Rafael Nadal served for a 6-3, 6-4 win against the Russian.
“For sure when Rafa is serving for the match, some part of my mind was already thinking, ‘Okay, well in a few minutes I’m going to be out of this court. That’s such a pity. I was in such great shape,’” Medvedev admitted. “I felt like I was not playing worse than him, at least. I had a break up in the second set. I knew it was my last chance, so I had to give it all. I knew that he would be a little bit tight like any other player who is serving for the match.
“I managed to make some good returns, one winner and we were back at 5-all. The pressure was on him, because he had the chance to close out the match. That’s just a small example of things coming through your brain, which makes you focussed on the goal.”
Medvedev rallied for a stunning 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory against Nadal, and then beat reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem in three sets in the final. Just weeks after being down on himself, Medvedev crafted one of the most memorable runs in Nitto ATP Finals history.
Normally, you’d expect the champion to let out a roar or even fall to the court in disbelief. Medvedev shrugged towards his coach, took the ball out of his left pocket, tapped it away and then shrugged again.
“Last year I just decided that it’s going to be my trademark. A lot of people like it, some people not, but that’s how I feel it,” Medvedev said. “When you win big titles or big matches against big opponents and you don’t celebrate, you actually have the opportunity to look around yourself and feel all the energy that’s going around.
“As an artist, as a tennis player, you can feel it all if you think about it.”
Medvedev called himself an artist, even if he isn’t the most orthodox one. He began to use more brushes to create his masterpieces, playing aggressively and taking the action to some of the best players in the world during his end-of-season surge.
“If I need to be defensive, I will stay defensive. But usually against the Top 10 players it will not work to only be defensive, so you have to change up your tactics,” Medvedev said. “Of course when I’m feeling good, I still like to hit the ball strong, especially with my forehand. I had more winners than my opponent in almost every match I played [in London], which is great. I am happy that the small things we worked on with my coach in practice worked out and showed on the big stage like this.”
Through the ups and the downs, Medvedev stayed the course in 2020. As he gets set to begin the new season, the 24-year-old will not rest on his laurels.
“We are trying to work every day to make me a better tennis player.”