LEADING THE CHANGE
Despite the loss in the US Open finals, Daniil Medvedev finishes the summer season with a 20-3 record, establishing himself as a force to reckon with in the new crop of tennis stars that is waiting to end the decade-long hegemony of the Big Three
Three straight finals, ending in a first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, have propelled 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev into the world's top-five before the finals and his quirky style of play, consistency, athleticism and pure confidence make him the most dangerous of opponents. No one has won more matches than Medvedev this year. His first-round victory over India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the recently-concluded US Open took his tally to 45, three more than the next-best, Nadal, followed by Federer (40) and Djokovic (39).
Ahead of the US Open final, Nadal warned the tennis fraternity that the Big Three era is coming to an end and very soon all three of them will be setting towards the end of their careers. Together with 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer and 16-time Slam champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Nadal has been part of the historic trio that was supposed to have been overthrown years ago but went on to build a legacy. While that time to end their dominance seemingly hasn't come, Nadal believes they're inching closer.
Daniil Medvedev has been a subject of discussion throughout the tournament, but mostly for wrong reasons. The Russian arrived at his maiden Grand Slam final to a chorus of boos but departed leaving most awe-struck of his abilities. It would not be wrong to say that Nadal survived rather than Medvedev lost.
Medvedev, who had never previously made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam, became the player fans loved to hate when he angrily snatched a towel from a ball person in his third-round match and showed the crowd his middle finger. He then sarcastically thanked the crowd after the match, saying, "the energy you're giving me right now, guys, I think it will be enough for my next five matches." Indeed it did last!
He did come into the tournament riding on a high – winning 20 of his last 22 games leading to the finals against Nadal, but it was only a few months back that he was embroiled in a five-match losing streak. Talking about that dark phase, Medvedev said, "Of course you can have fear, but it's more when you are in the down moment like I was in earlier this year. That's when you have fear going out on the court. You're like, Am I going to lose again? Am I going to win or not?"
Came the big day of the finals. The 23-year-old Russian was down to Rafa in the first two sets, and many would have assumed the Spaniard to send Medvedev packing in the next set. He believed that he has nothing to lose and would prefer to go down fighting rather than giving up. To everyone's surprise, he transformed and kept the fans glued to their seats – winning two sets from love to force a fifth set. Nadal did manage to clinch his 19th Grand Slam, but it was also Medvedev who went home proud of what he has done. He showed the world what he has in his bag and what he is capable of.
What more energy could we expect after the stellar show. "I know earlier in the tournament I said something in kind of a bad way and now I'm saying this in a good way: That it's because of your energy that I'm in the final," said Medvedev as he accepted the runner-up trophy. This is probably just the beginning of a new start to his career.
Converting break points at an unprecedented rate was the main ingredient of Daniil Medvedev's sensational climb up the ladder, this summer. Medvedev spectacularly jumped from converting 40.2 per cent of breakpoints in January to converting 52.4 per cent by the end of August.
Tennis legend, John McEnroe, was in all praise for Daniil Medvedev. He said, "The only question is his physical ability. He is too skinny. If he holds up, he is going to win six or seven Majors. When you look at the way he hits a backhand, it's similar to Djokovic's or Soderling's."
With Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Nick Kyrgios consistently coming up short in their attempts at dethroning the Big Three, Medvedev – over the past three weeks – has looked the most promising candidate to lead the charge against them.
Is it too early to call Daniil Medvedev the answer to men's tennis' biggest problem? The lanky Russian showed personality, ability and a championship-level mindset as he eventually fell to Rafael Nadal in five hours and five sets in his first slam final. With a few more consistent performances it would be safe to call Medvedev as the head of the army marching to break the decade-long hegemony of the Big Three.
Having begun the year ranked 16, he is the new leader of the next generation tennis stars; the youngsters who are desperate to break the
dominance of the Big Three, who between them have won a whopping 54 Grand Slam titles. This is new territory for Medvedev, but after the fight, he showed against Nadal, it seems he is now ready for the next step.
From the crowd booing him to reaching his first Grand Slam final to the applause after the presentation speech, it has indeed been an enviable journey for Medvedev. Aided with the ongoing consistency, he could be a world champion sooner or later in the 2020s.