Madrid Masters 2021: Daniil Medvedev will seek first Madrid match-win on return from Covid set-back
“First week on clay, I hate everything around me… The big thing that motivates me is I know that I’m capable to win matches.”
Once he broke into the top 10 in the middle of 2019, there seemed to be no stopping the tall, reed-thin Russian, Daniil Medvedev.
Back then, he made the final of three straight Masters tournaments—Montreal, Cincinnati and Shanghai—and won the latter two. Along the way, he won Washington, reached his first Major final at the US Open, won St Petersburg, and qualified for the ATP Finals as world No4.
After the 2020 coronavirus lockdown was lifted, he made the semis at the US Open, and ended the season with the Paris Masters title and as the ATP Finals champion.
And come 2021, Medvedev carried on where he had left off, leading Russia to the ATP Cup with three top-10 wins, then making the final of the Australian Open, and winning Marseille. And his reward was that, for a whole month, the Russian achieved what no-one outside the ‘big four’ had done since the summer of 2005: He rose to No2 in the world.
But then things went pear-shaped. As he prepared for his first clay outing of the year in Monte-Carlo, where he reached the semis in its last playing in 2019, he contracted Covid-19 and had to withdraw: Rafael Nadal would reclaim the No2 spot, and Medvedev could only sit back and watch.
The Russian lives in Monte-Carlo, and it must have been even more galling to miss out at the only big clay tournament where he has ever enjoyed success. Medvedev’s big serve and forehand, and his rangy, often unconventional, shot-making is most at home on hard courts, with clay akin to an alien environment. Look at the stats: Not a single match-win at the French Open, Rome Masters or Madrid Masters.
Indeed Medvedev has a grand total of 10 match-wins on clay in his senior career, largely from that 2019 effort in the Monte-Carlo semi followed by a final finish in Barcelona—which is still his only clay final from a total of 17.
Now he will try again to launch his 2021 clay season at this week’s Mutua Madrid Open. But before his campaign got under way, he was asked, naturally, how he was.
“I feel fit, that’s the first thing, because otherwise I would not come here… I felt some sickness symptoms. It was like a strong cold…Had nose and throat blocked a little bit, weakness for few days, but not more than that.”
He added about the after-effects:
“Coming back was not easy first four, five days especially after laying 10 days in your bed at home. [But] I feel like I had a good week and a half of practice. I just won doubles, so everything seems positive.”
He and Brazilian Marcelo Demoliner beat British hopefuls Dan Evans and Neal Skupski, runners-up in both Monte-Carlo and Miami.
But how does it feel to return to a tournament that has resulted in Round 1 losses in both visits?
“You know, I always said for me it’s step by step. So the goal actually for all three tournaments, Rome, Roland Garros, and Madrid, is to at least win one match in each of them. You know, step by step.
“Of course when I come to the tournament, the main goal is to win it. It’s tougher on clay than on hard court, so I will adjust, try my best, hope to show some good tennis, because that’s the most important. When I show good tennis I can win some great matches.”
He will need to hit the ground running, though. After a first-round bye as the No2 seed in Madrid, Medvedev is scheduled to play either Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, ranked 49, or Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and his first seed is Santiago champion Cristian Garin. All have played several matches on clay already.
“You know, of course will be a little bit tougher [for me] than other guys. For example, I will be playing maybe Davidovich… who played like five tournaments on clay already. I played zero. I definitely need to win some matches to just get this feeling of winning matches on clay.”
And he concluded with an unusually frank admission about his relationship with this surface:
“I don’t think it will change, to be honest. It’s just about play on clay. I think my shots, my movement, my physical appearance don’t suit clay, because to be honest, first week I come on clay, I play on hard courts or grass courts for, let’s say, eight months in a row, and then I have this clay court season for two months. First week when I come on clay I hate everything around me. I just hate to be on the court, and that’s very rare for me.
“Then I get used to it and it starts to be better. The big thing that motivates me is that I know that I’m capable to win matches. Two years ago I beat some really good guys. Was in really good shape. So I know that I’m capable. Just need to always find this confidence and this feeling which is tougher for me to find on clay than on hard courts.”
Of course, the altitude of Madrid, and the slightly harder, faster playing conditions, may help his cause. He concurred:
“I would say it’s more comparable to hard courts here in Madrid because the clay is fast, altitude, serve goes fast… In the results and in the game, we can see that guys who suffer a little bit on clay can play better here… That’s also one of the things that makes me feel more comfortable before the tournament.”
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Pierre-Hugues Herbert play their opener at 11am (10am GMT) Tuesday, with the winner taking on Medvedev on Wednesday.