If you’re Dominic Thiem, said ESPN’s Brad Gilbert toward the end of the championship game at the Nitto ATP Finals on Sunday, you’re scratching your head and thinking, what’s this guy going to do now?
This man was Daniil Medvedev, and Gilbert was right: Over the course of his 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Thiem, the Russian pulled every club out of his bag and tried every trick in his book, and fired every weapon in his considerable arsenal. You can call it cliché, but over the course of this match, and during his 5-0 run in London, Medvedev gave us a glimpse of the tactical sharpness and competitive tenacity that shot him to the rankings last year, making many of believe us that he is a future No. 1.
What looked like some sort of lost, sophomore slump, adapting to the spotlight has now led to Medvedev winning his biggest title, beating the Top 3 players in the world Thiem, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadalto. it. No one has done that at an ATP event since David Nalbandian defeated Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer in Madrid in 2007, and no one has ever done it during the tour’s season-ending championships.
What a game, one of my best wins, two hours and 42 minutes, three sets, against a great player, Medvedev said.
Medvedev failed to convert any of his first nine breakpoints, but he eventually broke Thiem and broke through in London. (Getty Images)
Medvedev took all three sets and all two hours and 42 minutes to get it done; this victory was a trial. It’s rare for a player to have enough options to try out two sets of different things until something clicks, but that’s what Medvedev did on Sunday.
He started out fairly conventional and tried to attack with his forehand. When he could not break down Thiems’ defense, Medvedev tried to go to war with him; instead of riding with his backhand, he placed it low and dropped it short. Again Thiem had the answers, especially on breakpoints, he saved the first nine he encountered and wasn’t broken until the third set. Whatever Medvedev threw at him, Thiem seemed able to rip a 100 mph ball off it.
But for the second consecutive day, when everyone looked lost, Medvedev pulled himself out of the fire. On Saturday, he broke Nadal when Rafa served for the game. Against Thiem, Medvedev, with a break point at 3-3 in the second set, saved himself with a forehand salvo. Then, in the tiebreaker, after trailing 0-2, he took away seven straight points.
Medvedev did it by playing tennis more resourcefully and flexibly than Thiem. At 0-2 he crept forward and won a point on the net. At 3-2, seeing that Thiem was almost exclusively chipping his backhand, Medvedev stepped in behind his return to that side and forced Thiem to try to come up with a chip pass, which he couldn’t. At 5-2, Medvedev served and hit a volley, forcing a forehand foul from Thiem. At the set point, he hit an ace.
In the third set Medvedev stayed one shot and Thiem thought ahead. He broke the serve at 2-2 by sneaking forward again during a rally and winning another point at the net. He held 4-2 by serving and volleying and then holding for his life as Thiem missed the easiest passing shots.
At 4-3, Medvedev followed his serve to the net, only to sprint back to the baseline and win the point from there. And with 5-4, he closed the game and the title with four service winners. He was 14 for 16 on points serving for the first time in the final set.
I always said before this tournament that it would be an amazing story if here in London, where the tournament lasted 12 years, the first champion would be Russian and the last champion also Russian, Medvedev said, referring to Nikolay Davydenkos winning in the O2 in 2009.
When Medvedev showed the use of tactical thinking in tennis, Thiem showed his limitations. For most of two sets, his decision to use the slice backhand looked like a brilliant one. He was able to frustrate Medvedev with his soft defensive shots from that side, before turning around and winning rallies with blistering attacking forehand. If Thiem had won the game and he was just one stab volley away, we could now talk about how much his game has matured, how he’s made himself a complete player, how he’s ready to take the Big 3 out in 2021. to day.
But in the end, the slice backhand failed. Thiem got so used to it that he couldn’t easily downshift and get back in when needed. Medvedev challenged him to take passing shots from that side, and Thiem couldn’t do with his slice. It wasn’t until the end, when he was behind, that Thiem let his topspin backhand fly again, but it was too late.
Last year Stefanos beat Tsitsipas Thiem by wire in the final in London; this time it was Medvedev who found a way to slow down his supersonic attack. Thiem will still go into 2021 as the most likely player to win a major not called Djokovic or Nadal, but for now Medvedev is the man of the moment. Of course, winning at the O2 doesn’t mean you’re destined for bigger things in the new year: the last three champions were Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Tsitsipas, none of whom hold major titles.
While we can’t say Medvedev will become the best player in the near future, it’s safe to say he will become the most interesting. Sometimes when you watch players bashing winners from both sides you start to think that there can be nothing new under the tennis sun, what can withstand blistering power? Medvedev can, with its mix of variety and consistency; are sudden dashes from baseline to net, then from net back to baseline; its crazy speed and its easy service move.
Medvedev may not have revolutionized tennis, but hell is expanding its possibilities. It’s going to be fun to scratch our heads and wonder: what is this man going to do now?
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