Australian Open 2021: Medvedev beats Tsitsipas for 20th straight win, 12th in a row vs top-10
Medvedev will face eight-time and defending champion Djokovic in bid for first Major title
The last semi-final of this year’s Australian Open had taken on epic status long before the two protagonists, No4 seed Daniil Medvedev and No5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, took to court.
Here were two of the brightest prospects among the young challengers to the dominance of the greatest Major champions in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Medvedev had notched up wins over Djokovic and Nadal—though none in the five-set format of Majors. Tsitsipas had scored wins over all three—and most notably at the Australian Open against Federer in 2019 and Nadal in this year’s epic quarter-final.
They were knocking at the door, with three Major semi runs apiece, though Medvedev had gone one step further to face Nadal in a truly memorable five-set final of almost five hours’ duration at the 2019 US Open.
Yet the older of the two men, 25-year-old Medvedev, was becoming the man to beat. Not only did he come into this semi-final on a 19-match winning streak, but he counted in that run 11 wins over top-10 players since falling to Dominic Thiem in the semis at the US Open last year.
Now he was in the hunt for his fourth consecutive title, and not just any titles. He won the Paris Masters, the ATP Finals, led Russia to the ATP Cup, and now took on Tsitsipas to reach the final of the Australian Open.
Even in these early stages of their rivalry, which currently favoured Medvedev 5-1, it was easy to see what made theirs such an attractive one.
There was the contrast in playing styles: one playing with flat, tactical, powerful precision, the other with more flamboyant single-handed, all-court variety.
And there was also the contrast in personality and appearance: Medvedev poker-faced, deliberate, not an ounce of energy expended between points; Tsitsipas with swashbuckling looks and heart-on-sleeve body language, never still.
It is such contrasts that seem to add a little extra to a tennis match, but in Melbourne, the big Greek contingent also ensured plenty of noise, emotional engagement, and an almost inevitable partisanship. Not that Medvedev is the kind of man to be upset by antagonistic fans.
The match started smoothly enough, with straightforward holds, but a couple of errors from the Greek in the third game opened the way for a bullet of a backhand to concede the break, and Medvedev consolidated with a love hold, two aces, 4-2.
Serving at 5-3, the Tsitsipas serve came under more pressure, but he held, and then for the first time, he got some traction on the Medvedev serve, but not enough to work a break point, and the Russian took the 39-minute set, 6-4, 14 winners to the good.
Tsitispas was soon under pressure in the second set, too, first caught flat-footed by an angled pass at the net, then outplayed in a backhand exchange. The winners flowed from the Russian through deuces and on to the break in an eight-minute game. One minute later, and Medvedev had held to love, 3-1.
Tsitsipas stayed true to his attacking game plan, already with 10 points won at the net, but the Medvedev serve was proving a tough nut to crack. However, it was the Russian’s baseline first-strike hitting that broke the Tsitsipas serve again for 5-2—and to love. Another 68 seconds, and the Russian had held to love for the set, 6-2, with an 11th ace.
Medvedev sat, a picture of passive calm, while Tsitsipas took a comfort break. It was surely make-or-break time for the Greek now, but he saw another backhand winner shoot past at the start of the third set. Then a cross-court floated backhand made it 15-30, and in short order, Medvedev had the opening break—followed once again by a fuss-free love hold.
However, a tough hold in fifth game seemed to ignite the fire in Tsitsipas—a couple of explosive overheads took him to a hold, and sure enough, in the next game, he worked his first break chances of the match, rushing Medvedev into a couple of errors and an edgy double fault. A quick hold, and the Greek was now 4-3 up.
Recollections of his Nadal quarter-final for Tsitsipas, then, when he had looked out of contention. He was in a similar situation here, now visibly growing in confidence and intensity. It was up to Medvedev to stem the energy of his opponent and the fans.
The Russian had to battle hard, but he saved break point, for 4-4. Then he was serving to save the set, and Medvedev continued to make errors, rushed by the attacking Tsitsipas. He resisted a 0-30 start to hold, and all at once, flicked the switch back to his brilliant best. A jaw-dropping backhand down the line broke for 6-5, and he made a rare appeal to the crowd for their approval.
Indeed Medvedev seldom fist pumps at any stage of a match, but now, he could not resist it as he headed to match point. A 129mph second serve sealed it, 7-5—his 20th straight match-win, his 12th against a top-10 opponent.
These are extraordinary achievements, with the Medvedev game and confidence seeming to grow before our eyes. His stroke-play may be unconventional, his backswing and shot-production hardly textbook. But his chess-like tactics, his flat and swift delivery, his stillness between points, and his apparently effortless speed in turning defence to attack, make him one of tennis’s most formidable opponents.
He delivers a good on-court interview too: smart, witty, with a light touch and a twinkle in the eye. He played his part in a classic Jim Courier conclusion to proceedings.
“We saw the [Stefanos] match with Rafa was the same, so I got a little bit scared and tight because it is a semi-final of a Slam. It was not easy, but I am happy I managed to turn my game on, especially in tight moments on my serve… I just tried to hit aces and winners, get the ball in the court, that’s the only way to do it. I am happy to manage to keep my nerves.”
Now, of course, he faces the ultimate test in tennis, and most particularly in Australia, where world No1 Djokovic has won eight titles.
“Sunday, I am going to come up against one of the greatest. The experience of playing against Rafa [in the 2019 US Open final] will maybe turn some things for me if we have a crazy match… I don’t have a lot of pressure because he never lost in eight finals here. I just hope I can show my best tennis… He is for sure more experienced, but has more things to lose than me.”
Meanwhile, though, Medvedev also has a lot at stake. A first Major title is an enormous hurdle to leap, and the pressure is sure weigh heavy, even on the Russian’s shoulders.