· Medvedev and Sonego reached their first Masters quarter-final
· Former champion and top seed Novak Djokovic stormed to the quarters in 68 minutes, his 15th win of 2019
· Six of the last 16 had reached at least the quarters in Monte-Carlo before—Dimitrov, Djokovic, Fognini, Nadal, Thiem, and Zverev
There were still empty seats, but that would soon change as these two young stars got into the meat of what promised to be an intriguing contest, the latest in what will surely become one of the key rivalries in the coming years.
Already 20-year-old Tsitsipas had two titles, 23-year-old Medvedev four titles, and both were ranked at career highs that meant they came to Monte-Carlo among the 16 seeds: The Greek No6 and the Russian No10.
Indeed both had made huge progress in the last 12 months. Tsitsipas’s big surge began on the clay a year ago, ranked 70, with a run to the final in Barcelona. Then four top-10 wins took him to the final of the Toronto Masters, and he won his first title in Stockholm. He reached the semis of the Australian Open with victory over Roger Federer, then the final in Dubai, and his win over Mikhail Kukushkin in his opener this week took him to 18 match-wins for the year.
However, Medvedev had the edge on that front with 19 wins. The 6ft 6ins Russian won all four of his titles in the last 16 months, all on hard courts, and while his wins on clay were few, he had dropped only five games in his first two matches this week. He had also won all three previous encounters with Tsitsipas, all of them last year and on hard courts. Would clay bring a change in the Greek’s fortunes?
It took Tsitsipas seven minutes to hold the opening game, and survive a break point and a couple of deuces. But it took Medvedev no time at all in the second game to make a love hold.
But both already were breaking out plenty of variety as they entered the third game: a drop shot winner, a sliding drop reply, an angled single-handed backhand winner, a down-the-line two-handed winner, and a volley-lob-lob combo—sometimes a string of them in one rally. Indeed that last exchange happened to come on break point to the Russian, he converted, and then held for 3-1.
Tsitsipas was beginning to struggle with the depth and accuracy of the Russian’s baseline game, making too many errors, and he suffered another break. Medvedev was swift to consolidate with a love hold, including two drop-shot winners and an ace, 5-1.
Tsitsipas changed tactics, switching to serve and volley. It did not work, but biding his time with some angled, subtle backhands from the back did, and he held, 5-2. However, the Russian had control of the match and most of the rallies, and held for 6-2. He had made only four unforced errors—in stark contrast with Tsitsipas’s 16.
By the time the Greek had returned from a comfort break, changed rackets, and adjusted his shoe-laces, it was almost midday, and the arena had filled up. Would it lift Tsitsipas, help to re-calibrate his tactics and find his range from the baseline?
Rather, it was Medvedev’s focus that dropped, he missed all his first serves, and Tsitsipas pounced to break. Now the Greek’s aggressive play picked up some quick points at the net, and he held for 3-0. In the blink of an eye, Tsitsipas had another break, and his forays to the net forced Medvedev to do the same, but with no great success.
Too many errors were creeping into the Russian’s game, and Tsitsipas’s confidence burgeoned before the eyes. A love hold, and he was 5-0, and he held for the set, 6-1, with a forehand down the line, in 27 minutes.
The stats were now just as revealing in the Greek’s favour, 10 winners in the set compared with two from Medvedev, 10/12 points won at the net, just three points dropped on serve.
This time, Medvedev led the march from the court, but would the break give Medvedev the same reversal of fortune? One factor that would make a big difference was his first serve, which was languishing around the 35 percent mark. Little wonder he faced 0-40 in the third game, and came under severe pressure from wide-angled strikes by the Greek. Sure enough, Tsitsipas broke to take the lead for the first time, 2-1.
But it did not last long: Medvedev stepped in, took the ball early and flat, got the break back, and they were all square.
The Russian then held with real flair, a drop shot and follow-up backhand drive volley, 4-3, and come 5-4, Tsitsipas faced some remarkable defence from Medvedev, first a lob onto the baseline, and then a difficult overhead that the Greek fired wide for three match-points.
And after a seesawing but compelling contest, it ended with a whimper, a double fault by Tstisipas. Medvedev was into his first Masters quarter-final with his 20th win of the season—the tour leader. It also marked his second win over top-10 opposition, following victory over Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon in 2017.
It would not take as long to determine who Medvedev next faced. World No1 and two-time Monte-Carlo champion, Novak Djokovic, may have struggled to find his range in his opener against Philipp Kohlschreiber, but he had few problems against the 21-year-old Taylor Fritz.
After a couple of testing service games early in the first set, the former champion played himself into his formidable self, pulling Fritz from corner to corner, tugging him in to the net, and lobbing his reply with accurate ruthlessness.
Djokovic got three breaks in the first set, before Fritz temporarily held him up with a break back as the Serb served for the set. But Djokovic then ran away with the win in the second set, making hay on the Fritz second serve, and offering up not a break point chance in return. It was done and dusted in 68 minutes, 6-3, 6-0.
Guido Pella, ranked 35, beat No11 seed Marco Cecchinato, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, after two and a quarter hours, in a battle between two of the ‘golden swing’ champions back in February. He next plays either Rafael Nadal or Grigor Dimitrov.
Qualifier Lorenzo Sonego followed up his win over No8 seed Karen Khachanov with a strong performance against Briton Cameron Norrie, and the Italian came off the best in this battle of the 23-year-olds, 6-2, 7-5. He next plays either Dominic Thiem or Dusan Lajovic.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge