Rotterdam 2019: Birthday celebrations continue for Medvedev; backs up Sofia title with opening win
Daniil Medvedev will face Fernando Verdasco in the last 16 of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam
A clutch of young Russian players has been making waves on the tour for a couple of years now, but it was world No11 Karen Khachanov who ended 2018 at the top of the pile when he won the Paris Masters.
That he beat four top-10 players, including No1 Novak Djokovic, along the way only added depth to the achievement.
It was, though, just the latest in a swathe of indoor victories for young Russians in 2018. Paris was Khachanov’s third of the year along with Marseille and Moscow, and he ended the year with more indoor wins than any other player.
But second to Khachanov was Daniil Medvedev, who turned 23 just two days ago. He began 2018 ranked 84, but raced up the ranks after a stand-out opening victory in Sydney, the first of what would be three titles last year.
The 6ft 6in Medvedev went on to win in Winston Salem and picked up his first 500 indoors in Tokyo without dropping a set, and beating home favourite Kei Nishikori in the process.
Add in semi-final runs in Moscow and Basel, and he ended 2018 with 43 match-wins, 17 of them indoors, and led the Tour with 38 hard-court wins overall.
Fast forward to Rotterdam 2019, and while Khachanov crashed out in the first round against another 22-year-old, Dutch youngster Tallon Griekspoor, Medvedev was continuing to crank up wins, both indoors and out. He began the year with a final run in Brisbane, made the fourth round at the Australian Open, his best run at a Major thus far, and then won the Sofia Open indoors the day before his birthday.
Little wonder his first match in Rotterdam was delayed until Wednesday, where he also intended to play doubles with compatriot Khachanov. And perhaps little wonder that he looked a little slow off the mark against the big-hitting 31-year-old Jeremy Chardy, who at 35 in the ranks, was a dangerous player to find in an opening match.
The two had met only once before, on grass last summer, and Chardy had won in straight sets. But a lot of water had passed under the Russian’s bridge since then, and Medvedev got the first break to take a 4-1 lead.
The Frenchman came back at him, though, with big serving, his tricksy sliced backhand and drop shots, to stem the aggression of Medvedev, and break straight back. The young Russian, head bowed, looked frustrated, and sure enough, after being broken a second time, smashed his racket to pieces as he faced 4-5 and the prospect of losing the set.
It worked: His frustration released, he upped the aggression again, playing strong, flat balls to the corners, and picking up the Chardy serve and drop-shot more quickly. He broke back, resisted another break point to go 6-5, and they headed into a tie-break.
The two men, now both playing at a high level, produced some crowd-pleasing rallies: sliced exchanges, drops and lobs, athletic chasing, and it seemed to steel Medvedev. A lucky net-cord point for 2-1 heralded a race to the set, 7-6(2), and he rode that momentum into a much swifter second set.
The Russian broke in the first game and the third to lead 4-0, and with his first serve hitting 86 percent for the set, there was no way back for Chardy. Medevedev closed out the win 6-2 in an hour and a half, 22 winners to 16 unforced errors.
He next plays the experienced Spanish power-player Fernando Verdasco, now 35 years old but playing as well as he has in some time. He is up to 26 from 40 less than a year ago, pressed Marin Cilic to the limits in the third round of the Australian Open, and made the quarter-finals in Sofia. He also won the last of his two meetings with Medvedev on the Dutch grass last summer.
But this is a quarter now vacated by the top seed Khachanov, though the unseeded 30-somethings here will want a say in how the section players out. Along with Verdasco, the Montpellier champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was beginning his march against qualifier Thomas Fabbiano, and looked mighty strong. But make no mistake: Medvedev will be a force to be reckoned with—as long as he does not run out of gas first.
Elsewhere, at the top of the draw, Marton Fucsovics, who was runner-up to Medvedev in Sofia, also advanced to the second round after beating former champion Martin Klizan, 7-6(4), 6-4.