So far in 2021, Daniil Medvedev has led Russia to the ATP Cup title, reached his maiden Australian Open final and collected his 10th ATP Tour trophy at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.
An interesting common denominator behind those title runs at the ATP Cup and Marseille? Pre-tournament practice sessions with Alexei Popyrin. The pair will meet on Sunday for a place in the Miami Open presented by Itau Round of 16.
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During pre-season, Medvedev joined Popyrin for multiple practice sessions. The Russian also connected with the Aussie ahead of his trip to Marseille, where he beat Jannik Sinner and Pierre-Hugues Herbert en route to the title.
Medvedev has got to know his opponent well over the past few months, and he is aware of the threat that Popyrin will pose in Miami. The pre-season training sessions also proved a charm for the 21-year-old, who has compiled an 11-3 record and lifted his maiden ATP Tour title (Singapore) this year.
“He’s a great player. I think [he is] still young, still coming up,” said Medvedev. “Great strokes, great serve. Solid baseline player, but he can go to the net, hit winners from all corners of the court. It’s going to be a tough match. [I am] looking forward to it.”
Knowledge may equal power for Medvedev, but that theory works both ways. Popyrin now has an improved understanding of the task that lies ahead on Grandstand, where he will aim to record the biggest win of his career.
“I know what to expect against him. I practised with him in pre-season, so we know each other pretty well,” said Popyrin. “It will be a tough match. I have never played anyone as high as No. 2 in the world.”
Popyrin will be aiming to earn his first win in the third match of his ATP Head2Head rivalry against the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion. The World No. 86 pushed Medvedev to four sets at Wimbledon in 2019 and fell in straight sets to the Russian at last year’s Australian Open. When asked what the biggest challenge of facing Medvedev was, Popyrin provided an honest assessment.
“I think everything is challenging,” said Popyrin. “He is probably the best passer when you come to the net. He knows what to do when another guy comes to the net, you can’t overplay him from the baseline and he has got a massive serve. He is a great all-around player.”
In the first match of the day on Grandstand, Felix Auger-Aliassime will meet 2018 champion John Isner in a repeat of their 2019 semi-final at this event. On that occasion, Isner raised his level in crucial moments to defeat the 18-year-old 7-6(3), 7-6(4) and reach his second straight Miami final.
Auger-Aliassime, who won seven matches from qualifying en route to that semi-final encounter, will be the higher-ranked player for his second ATP Head2Head clash against the American. The 11th seed earned his 10th win of the season against Herbert to reach the Miami third round. Isner, the 18th seed, was forced to recover from a set down to defeat countryman Mackenzie McDonald 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in his opening match.
On Court 1, Sinner and Karen Khachanov will meet for the third time in their ATP Head2Head rivalry. Both of their previous meetings went all the way to a final-set tie-break.
At last year’s US Open, Khachanov rallied from two sets down to defeat the #NextGenATP Italian 3-6, 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-0, 7-6(4). Sinner gained his revenge at last month’s Great Ocean Road Open, when he saved a match point to overcome Khachanov 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(4) in a thrilling, three-hour, seven-minute semi-final.
“I practise for having tough matches. I practise for staying in difficult situations. I practise especially for these kinds of matches,” Sinner said. “It’s going to be a tough match for sure for both of us. I know him quite well, he knows me quite well… It’s not going to be easy for us.”
Seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut and 16th seed Dusan Lajovic will continue their Miami campaigns on Sunday. Bautista Agut will face 31st seed Jan-Lennard Struff in the opening match on Court 1, while Lajovic will close the night session on Grandstand against Frances Tiafoe. Alexander Zverev’s conqueror Emil Ruusuvuori, 22nd seed Taylor Fritz and 32nd Alexander Bublik also feature on the Court 1 schedule.
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SCHEDULE – SUNDAY, 28 MARCH 2021
GRANDSTAND start 11:00 am
 F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN) vs  J. Isner (USA)
Not Before 1:00 pm
 D. Medvedev (RUS) vs A. Popyrin (AUS)
Not Before 7:00 pm
Not Before 8:30 pm
F. Tiafoe (USA) vs  D. Lajovic (SRB)
COURT 1 start 11:00 am
 J. Struff (GER) vs  R. Bautista Agut (ESP)
 J. Sinner (ITA) vs  K. Khachanov (RUS)
E. Ruusuvuori (FIN) vs M. Ymer (SWE)
C. Norrie (GBR) vs  T. Fritz (USA)
Not Before 7:00 pm
 A. Bublik (KAZ) vs J. Duckworth (AUS)
COURT 2 start 12:00 pm
D. Evans (GBR) / N. Skupski (GBR) vs  J. Murray (GBR) / B. Soares (BRA)
 I. Dodig (CRO) / F. Polasek (SVK) vs F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN) / H. Hurkacz (POL)
O. Marach (AUT) / L. Saville (AUS) vs K. Khachanov (RUS) / A. Rublev (RUS)
COURT 5 start 12:00 pm
Not Before 1:30 pm
 P. Herbert (FRA) / N. Mahut (FRA) vs M. Kecmanovic (SRB) / A. Qureshi (PAK)
[WC] S. Korda (USA) / M. Mmoh (USA) vs T. Puetz (GER) / A. Zverev (GER)