Indian Wells 2022: Daniil Medvedev cruises to Round 3 in first match as No1
Medvedev must reach quarters to assure No1 over absent Djokovic; Dan Evans wins to set Nadal showdown
He has already spent two weeks as the world No1, but Daniil Medvedev was about to play his first match since rising to the top of the pile.
Well before his 26th birthday last month, he had been shaping up to be the young player ‘most likely to’. After all, he reached his fourth Major final at the Australian Open this year, after winning his first Major in New York last September. He had already won the ATP Finals in 2020, and made the final again 12 months later. ATP Cup, tick; Davis Cup, tick; Masters titles, tick—four of them.
Indeed, his US Open victory took his tally to 13 titles, and it took five sets and five and a half hours for Rafael Nadal to deny him No14 in Melbourne.
And so the Russian—playing under a neutral flag following the invasion of Ukraine by his country—became the first man outside ‘the big four’ of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to hold the No1 ranking in 18 years.
He had certainly done plenty to deserve the No1 ranking, but he got a little extra help this season due to the absence of record-holding No1 Djokovic, who was unable to play in Australia and Indian Wells, and lost in the quarters of his only tournament so far in 2022, Dubai.
Even so, such is the depth and breadth of the Serb’s tournament successes since the start of the global pandemic two years ago that Medvedev had to keep up the pressure to stay on top. In short, he had to reach the Indian Wells quarter-finals—something he had failed to do in four previous visits.
Certainly the draw did little to help him get beyond the quarters, where he is scheduled to meet either No5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or defending champion Cameron Norrie. And if Medvedev worked all the way to the semis, there lay his bête noir, the three-time champion Nadal.
The super-Spaniard arrived in Indian Wells with three back-to-back titles, a 15-0 streak, including two wins over Medvedev. Not just that heart-breaker of an Australian final but the semis in Acapulco. Indeed Nadal had lost to the Russian only once in their six meetings, which had all been played on Medvedev’s favoured hard courts.
Before the Russian could look at those final days of competition, however, Medvedev had important business to reach the quarters, not least the prospect of Gael Monfils in Round 3. His first match, though, offered a chance to solidify his range and confidence against qualifier Tomas Machac, age 21 and ranked 158. That said, the young Czech saved 13 of 14 break points in his first match against Alexei Popyrin, so he did not want for strong nerves.
And his bristling confidence showed straight away: Against the Medvedev opening serve, he had break point, helped, it should be added, by a couple of double faults. But the top seed held.
The Russian certainly knew he was in a dog-fight, as Machac played with variety, angle, even a forehand sliced winner. But come the sixth game, he conceded a break to love. Medvedev looked calm and collected, if not cool, in the midday heat of the Californian desert, and a hold to love followed. He had his game face on, and went on to serve it out, 6-3.
The second set began more convincingly for Medvedev, with an immediate break and hold for 2-0. The third game became a gruelling cat-and-mouse battle of long rallies, mixes of spin and angle, and in the end, Medvedev saw a break chance evaporate.
He was playing incredibly deep behind the baseline, and Machac was prepared to concede a couple of slotted passes on his way to the net in exchange for some easy finishes off his swinging serve.
The Russian, though, did break again, and held for 5-1 with a couple of drop-shot winners. He was now in control of things, despite the Czech’s continued volley plays and racing pick-ups at the net.
Machac served to save the set, and went for too much in a desperate attempt to hold off the accuracy of his opponent. But he did fend off match point with some creative defence at the net, and held. It was a temporary reprieve, though. Medvedev served it out comfortably, 6-2, after 70 minutes.
The Russian was not the first man into the third round, however. That privilege went to Briton’s Dan Evans, who completed his comprehensive win over Federico Coria, 6-2, 6-0, three minutes before Medvedev had finished.
However, the No27 seed was predicted to face an uphill battle from here: Nadal would be next, with the likes of Denis Shapovalov and Reilly Opelka lined up for the fourth round.
Indeed it was Nadal who next took to Arena Court, playing the talented young American Sebastian Korda. At just 21, the 38-ranked Korda was 14 years the Spaniard’s junior, and one of his biggest fans. He even named his cat ‘Rafa’ in the Spaniard’s honour. But it did not start well for the American—two breaks and a 6-2 first set to Nadal.
Korda, though, showed more of his undeniable talent to break at the start of the second, holding for a 3-0 lead. He went on to break a second time, combining some blistering winners with plenty of flexibility and variety, and served it out, 6-1.
The third set saw both men going toe to toe in some punishing rallies, and after almost half an hour, in a long fifth game, Korda fired two winning forehands to break, 3-2. His movement, and attacking tactics, continued to apply the pressure, and that drew a double fault from Nadal for three more break points. Another double, and Korda was left to serve for the match, 5-2.
But tension took a hold: three errors, and Nadal broke back, then held with an ace, 4-5. The surge continued, as it has so often before from the Spaniard. Two winners, 0-30 against Korda, and a wild Korda forehand brought the inevitable break. Nadal held off another break point to take the lead, 6-5. Korda took it to a tie-break, but his first serve was letting him down, as it had for the last few games, and forehand errors followed.
Nadal took set and match, 7-6(3), but Korda will rue a real missed opportunity.