Davis Cup 2021: Medvedev and Rublev make it three titles for Russia against Croatia
Russia is fourth nation to win Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup in the same year and fifth to win senior and junior Davis Cups in the same year
In the fast-evolving tournament that the Davis Cup has become in recent years—and the final in Madrid between Russia and Croatia was preceded by fresh announcements of changes to next year’s iteration—some things can still be relied upon in an event that dates back to 1900.
And a couple of them brought two former champion nations to the final day of the 2021 edition.
First, the tall, serious figure of Croatia’s Marin Cilic, now 33 years old, a former Major and Masters champion, and once the world No3. He reached the final of the Australian Open in 2018—almost four years ago—but had since gone through something of a dip in form and a slip in rankings, until a revival this year.
He won Stuttgart on grass, and then his 20th title in St Petersburg, plus he made the final in Moscow. He also brought an outstanding record to the Madrid finals this weekend with more singles- and match-wins in Davis Cup—32 and 42 respectively—than any other Croat, and having played more ties, 30 of them, than any compatriot.
And while he may not have won many of his singles matches during this year’s tournament, his inspirational presence got some impressive performances from his lowly-ranked and much younger team-mates. All of them also benefitted from the outstanding doubles combo of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, who won all four of their doubles rubbers, ensuring progress through the quarters against Italy and the semis against Serbia.
Cilic also spearheaded their 2018 victory, making Croatia one of the most successful nations in recent years: This would be their third final run in the last five seasons.
Pitted against Cilic and Croatia was arguably the strongest team in the competition, the Russian Tennis Federation. And the quality shone from the Russian squad from the off.
World No2 Daniil Medvedev was winner of the last Major of the year, the US Open, and runner-up at the Australian Open and ATP Finals. The second player was No5-ranked Andrey Rublev, winner in Rotterdam and twice a Masters runner-up this year. Twice in the tournament he had also teamed up with another formidable Russian, Aslan Karatsev, ranked 18, to seal doubles rubbers.
Karatsev, the eldest of the three, had surged up the ranks from 114 when he came through qualifying to reach the semis of the Australian, and then played his doubles part in supporting Medvedev and Rublev to the other team title in the calendar, this year’s ATP Cup.
And there were other statistics in their sights: the RTF would become only the fourth nation to win both Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup titles in the same year and the fifth to win both Davis Cup and Junior Davis Cup titles in the same year.
First out was Rublev against Borna Gojo, ranked 279 but with his first top-100 wins in the space of week over Alexei Popyrin, Lorenzo Sonego and Dusan Lajovic.
But Rublev stormed through the first set, 6-4, before resisting a tougher fight in the second, 7-6(5), dropping just three points on his first serve, and not facing a break point through the hour and a half.
Perhaps appropriately, though, it was the two 6ft 6ins figureheads who determined the outcome of the title. Medvedev edged a tight first set, 7-6(7), before cruising to victory, 6-2, in under an hour and a half. The doubles rubber would not be needed.
The Russian star did not drop a set during the tournament, and ended the season as he began it: side-by-side with his colleagues and holding aloft a trophy.
That now makes it three Davis Cup titles, along with 2002 and 2006, and if those same big names continue to commit to the tournament for as long as Cilic has done, they will surely win more.
For now, Medvedev told the Madrid fans who had often given him a bumpy ride:
“It feels amazing. I am more happy for the team than myself. We have an amazing team with an amazing atmosphere and I am just happy to be able to be part of this team to win the points we needed.
“It’s never easy to come here at the end of the season but they were some of the best weeks of my career.”
A word, too, for their captain, Shamil Tarpischev, who is the longest-serving Davis Cup captain of all time and who was contesting his 101st Davis Cup tie. He first captained the Russian Tennis Federation team in 1974 and began his current spell as captain in 1997, missing just one tie since then. It is an impressive record indeed.