Rotterdam 2019: Generations collide, & Medvedev stops Verdasco, but Tsonga joins Wawrinka and Monfils
Daniil Medvedev beats Fernando Verdasco to set up a quarter-final clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Rotterdam
Thursday saw the original 32 reduce down to the eight quarter-finalists, and it was entirely possible that all but one of the eight could be a 30-something.
The one stand-out was the eye-catching teenager, the youngest man in the entire draw, Denis Shapovalov, who showed all his athletic ability and flamboyant ball striking to subdue 33-year-old Tomas Berdych. It was a glittering performance by the young Canadian, as even he was willing to admit—though it had been, he revealed, the result of extra work:
“I think I played really solid from the first point to the last. I had a good rhythm on strokes, I was really feeling good. I made the decision to come a bit earlier to hit for an hour just to find my groove. I wasn’t feeling so good at yesterday’s match, and sure enough, I was really able to play well and was really happy with the tennis tonight.”
His quarter-final match, in his first appearance in Rotterdam, will be against a former champion, the bullish Stan Wawrinka, who after more than year of attempting to recover his old form following double knee surgery, began to look like the power-pack Swiss that fans around the world have grown to love.
Wawrinka, then, had reserved one place among the last eight for the ‘old guard’, a 33-year-old still with the passion and quality to upset the likes of No4 seed Milos Raonic for the first time in their last four meetings.
Gael Monfils was also starting to show just why he is such a crowd-pleaser, also demonstrating some of the old form after a career littered by injury set-backs. Fast, creative, exciting, the 32-year-old Frenchman had already dismissed the No8 seed David Goffin before putting out 34-year-old Andreas Seppi to affirm his spot in the quarters.
And in his half of the draw, two more places would be contested between a pair of young guns and two older colleagues. Former Rotterdam champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 33, and lately the Montpellier champion, cruised to the second round, where he would not face 22-year-old No2 seed Karen Khachanov but the equally youthful Dutch wild card, Tallon Griekspoor.
And the winner of that match would play the survivor between 35-year-old Fernando Verdasco and the No5 seed Daniil Medvedev, lately turned 23 and also a champion last weekend.
Verdasco’s only previous win in Rotterdam came in 2008, but he dismissed Matthew Ebden for this second win in the Dutch city. However his next task was a tough one, against one of the tour’s most impressive young stars.
Medvedev qualified on his debut here last year and went on to reach the quarter-finals and he had risen quickly up the ranks since then. He came to Rotterdam this year fresh from winning his fourth career title in Sofia, having picked up his first three last year in Sydney, Winston-Salem and Tokyo. He also started 2019 with a final run to the Brisbane final, and backed it with his first Major fourth-round finish in Melbourne, now up to a career-high 16 from 84 a year ago.
The young Russian’s tall, slender frame belies his speed around the court, and he also has a willingness to come to the net, though perhaps still at times too hesitantly. But he, like a few more of the rising generation, has not been averse to building his range of skills in doubles play.
He got off to a quick start, despite his heavy work-load of the last month, won the first three games against Verdasco, and a second break ensured the opening set, 6-2.
The second set was much tighter, though the Medvedev serve was too good to yield Verdasco any chance to break. Indeed the veteran Spaniard came close to losing his serve in the ninth game, but his strength from the back of the court kept the Russian at bay.
However, Verdasco was up against it again in the 11th, and his rapidly rising tally of errors—he would hit 42 in the match—gave the attacking Medvedev the opening he needed. A break for 6-5, and the Russian was left to serve out the match, 7-5, after an hour and a half.
That took Medvedev’s winning record for 2019 to 13 from 15, scoring one for the younger players in the draw. And elsewhere, another over-30, Mikhail Kukushkin, was put out of contention by Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, 6-4, 7-6(3), in one hour and 43 minutes.
So could Tsonga take the over-30s count to three against 22-year-old Griekspoor? The Dutchman posted his biggest career win over Khachanov, in the same place where he won his very first career match over Wawrinka, right here last year.
But the charismatic Frenchman, who has missed many months on the tour following a knee injury, proved too much for the Dutch player, though Griekspoor, ranked just 221, threw plenty of quality at Tsonga, with the same attacking, forward-moving strategy that had broken down Khachanov.
Indeed there was little between the men in the first set, which went to a tie-break. The Dutchman saved four set points as the match went almost to an hour, but Tsonga just edged the advantage, 7-6(5), and with that done, opened a swift lead in the second set.
With a break in the third game, the 2017 champion opened a 4-1 lead, and closed things out with another break, 6-1, to set a quarter-final showdown with the other title-winner last week, Medvedev. What is more, the Russian beat Tsonga 7-6(6), 6-2 in the Brisbane semi-finals at the start of January, but the indoor environment is a different animal—and both men are playing the conditions well.
That made three over-30s among the last eight, then. Would the unseeded Ernests Gulbis translate his last-minute chance—the second lucky loser to make the draw—into a fourth? It would be a very tough ask indeed—particularly once top seed Kei Nishikori had the first set in the bag, 6-1, in just 23 minutes.
• Nishikori went on to win 6-1 6-4 and will face Márton Fucsovics in the quarter-finals