Medvedev, the world No.4, beat the Austrian sledgehammer Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 to claim the biggest title of his career — the Nitto ATP Finals. The 24-year-old is the first to defeat the world’s top three players in the season-finale, beating No.1 Novak Djokovic in the group stage of the competition and second-ranked Rafael Nadal in the semifinals before taking down the No.3 Thiem on Sunday at London’s O2 Arena.
“To win it you beat everybody in the top-10 anyway, but also, the best players in the world,” Medvedev said. “At this moment, maybe someone was not at his best, but it doesn’t matter. They are still the best players in tennis right now.”
After Medvedev served out the match following 2 hours and 42 minutes of intense exchanges, during which there were only two breaks of serve, he turned in the direction of his box, a hesitant half-smile crossing his face. As if he was unsure of the victory.
Medvedev is delighted when he wins matches, it’s what he plays for. Even if he chooses to punctuate his victories with an anaemic display of emotion.
Last year at the US Open, after trading barbs with the crowd during early round matches, Medvedev reached out to fans. He apologized, accepting he’d made a mistake. Then, following the final in which he went down in five sets to Nadal, he tendered an emotional appreciation of the full house.
“It’s something I decided to do,” Medvedev said of a decision he arrived at in the autumn of 2019. “At one moment of their career, everybody decides to do something special. In tennis maybe I’m the first one, some players in football don’t celebrate their goals. I don’t celebrate my victories. That’s just my thing. I like it.”
The world No.4’s victory ensured Russians bookended London’s 12-year run as host city of the season-ending championships, with compatriot and boyhood hero Nikolay Davydenko having won the first edition in the British capital in 2009.
A month ago, Medvedev was far away from the form that saw him sweep to ten straight wins, claiming titles in Paris and then London. The Moscow native, who arrived in Paris with just three wins from his last eight matches, was searching for his first trophy in 13 months.
The foundation of Medvedev’s play is his light-footed coverage. Hopelessly out of position, he still manages to make it. At times it seems like he’s walking on air. Floating on it. An invigorating mix of delicate all-court skills, flat maybe the Russian’s style, but his game carries the bite of a blade. Ask Thiem.
The two-time finalist said, “two guys faced-off, (both) in great form. It was great level all three sets.”
In a compliment to his opponent, Medvedev billed his win in the final, the best victory of his life.
“To beat Dominic the way he played today, not even talking about the title,” he said, adding that his form augurs well for 2021. “My level of game, especially the last two matches, is just unbelievable. It gives me a lot of confidence for the future.”
The fashion in which the finalists matched up on the court — power and precision, determined and deft, courage and canny — was an expression of the respect each has for the other’s play. Strains of a Federer and Nadal face-off on a grass court.
Some three years apart in age, their first meeting as teenagers was unforgettable. It was in Umag, Croatia, in a junior tournament. Medvedev was only 14, while Thiem, by then, had already made the final of the Roland Garros boys event. The 17-year-old was, as Medvedev took pains to explain, ‘a superstar among juniors’.
Their courses collided in the second round of the clay court event, the Austrian walked away with a 6-2, 6-0 win.
“I had a crazy attitude on the court, like 10 times worse than right now,” Medvedev explained. “After the match he told me, ‘you’re going to have a good future maybe, but you need to be a little bit more calm’.”
There is a serenity about Medvedev’s play now, especially when his game is crackling. It burns.
MEDVEDEV @ ATP FINALS
Aces off second serve: 0
Aces from Deuce Court: 22; Aces from Ad Court: 21
Average First Serve speed: 123.72 MPH,
Average Second Serve speed: 99.24 MPH
No of aces when trailing 15-40: 3
No of aces when leading 40-15: 5
Broken in five matches: 5
Break points converted: 12/46
– Statistics by INFOSYS