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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Daniil Medvedev: A pantomime Russian antagonist in New York

Daniil Medvedev's path to the US Open final has been full of antics, from flipping the finger at the umpire to WrestleMania-like interviews.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee |
Updated: September 9, 2019 1:35:47 am
Daniil Medvedev reacts during his US Open semi-final match. (Source: USA Today)

Daniil Medvedev, quite uncharacteristically, lifted his hands and just clapped his racket like a mild-mannered person in admiration of the New York crowd after his US Open semi-final win against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov on Friday. Turning the clock to a week back, the Russian’s antics on reaching his first-ever Grand Slam final was almost an unthinkable thought.

The crowd-goading antagonist who made himself at home in the ‘electric’ atmosphere of the Flushing Meadows has been stealing the headlines ever since the start of this year’s US Open. Be it snatching of towels in frustration, flipping of fingers, delivering inciteful post-match interviews or celebrating with John Travolta-ish dance, he has indulged in all.

But there has been a trajectory curve for the 23-year-old, who, from openly embracing the role of an antagonist, has made efforts to reiterate his simple goal of trying to be a better person.

“I actually have no idea why the demons go out when I play tennis,” said Medvedev. “I’m not proud of what I did. I’m working to never do it again,” said Medvedev, after becoming the first Russian man to reach a Grand Slam final since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open.

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“When you sleep tonight, I won because of you”

For all his antics, the question arises, where did it all start? After powering through the first couple of rounds, defeating India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien, Medvedev had fixed an appointment with Spain’s Feliciano López last Friday.

When a frustrated Medvedev had snatched a towel from a ball person in the first set of the third round clash and given a code violation by umpire Damien Dumusois, the “Meddy Bear” had thrown a racket towards the man in the high chair. Discontent with the decision, he later flashed his middle finger next to his forehead away from the eyesight of Dumusois.

Although he progressed into the fourth round with a 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4 victory, the crowd let the Russian feel the heat through their jeers and the boos because of his conduct. Considering the summer he has been having, with three consecutive ATP finals in Washington, Montreal, and Cincinnati, the fine of $19,000 delivered to him by the US Tennis Association was nothing but a minor inconvenience.

Instead, Medvedev, whose last name comes from the Russian word for “bear”, clawed back at the American hostility like the quintessential Russian bear. With words out of a WrestleMania interview, he said, “I want all of you to know when you sleep tonight, I won because of you.”

What’s ironically hilarious is that even after studying at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the spindly Moscovite has a non-diplomatic attitude towards all the animosity. Or more like had one, considering his change of heart after the semi-final win. But that doesn’t change the fact how he let the crowd go at him again with a satirical, self-absorbed strut, after his fourth-round win, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (2) over Dominik Koepfer on last Sunday.

Never mind his post-match interview, where he thanks the crowd for jeering him, which helped him overcome his kinesio tape-clad body’s weaknesses.

Even without a symbolic black cowboy hat, Medvedev harnessed all of the negative energy as fuel to aid his physical strains to reach the final. With three successive ATP finals, winning the Cincinnati Masters after defeating the likes of Novak Djokovic and David Goffin, he has now played 24 singles matches since July 31, losing just two finals.

“I try to be myself”

After going a couple of rounds inside the ring with the Big Apple crowd, after the quarter-final clash with Stanislas Wawrinka, “bad boy” Daniil had a second coming of sorts. Even though he was welcomed onto Arthur Ashes Stadium to a chorus of boos, after his 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over the Swiss, he had a change of heart.

The fifth seed extended an olive branch to the crowd saying, “I have to say sorry guys and thank you.”

“I have two words (to describe the US Open). First one for sure ‘electric’, because it is electric and second, ‘controversy’ because what I have done is not good. So many people support me still, so many people like my interview, so many people don’t like me and I can just say I try to be myself guys,” said a contrite Medvedev on Tuesday.

“I have to say I love the USA”

Ending the eventful summer under the contractable roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, against the 18-time Grand Slam winner, Rafael Nadal on this Sunday — Daniil Medvedev could not have asked for anything better.

“When I came to the USA, I didn’t know it was going to be this good,” said the 1996-born Russian, who has a tour-leading 50 wins in 2019. “I have to say I love the USA.”

With four back-to-back finals, his stamina and tenacity might falter with problems in his adductors and quadriceps popping up, but what won’t is his “different” personality that keeps him so determined with the racket. Despite his taunting talk and antics, much like an eccentric Greek, Medvedev’s “different” tennis makes his coach Gilles Cervara feel how it is like to coach a genius.

Maybe misunderstood so far, but the world has already witnessed him come out of the shadows. Win or lose on Sunday, the pantomime antagonist can shed off the name that he has earned in the past two weeks with yet another showing of effervescent tennis. No matter the result of the final, Medvedev will climb to a career-high No. 4 in the ATP Rankings on Monday.

But it still remains to be seen whether he can be the true villain who finally unnerves the masterful dominance of the “Big Three”.

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