Tom Wolfe’s classic “The Right Stuff” chronicles the evolution of a group of elite American airmen from military pilots to experimental jet test pilots to Mercury astronauts.
As an experimental plane spiraled out of control, the ground crew might hear, “I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! I’ve tried C! I’ve tried D! Tell me what else I can try.” And then, Wolfe would morbidly write, the pilot would crash and be burned beyond recognition.
Andrey Rublev got to walk off the Grandstand court on his own two feet, but Roger Federer’s 21-year-old conqueror was reduced to a hapless aviator tumbling helplessly from the sky Friday night. Rublev had beaten the number 3 seed at his own game, quick strike tennis: Medvedev wasn’t going to fall into the same trap, as we saw yesterday afternoon when he reduced Jan-Lennard Struff to a smoking wreck.
Struff had seen off number 5 seed Tsitsipas with in-the-zone first strike groundstrokes: Medvedev sat back behind the baseline, sucked the German into long backhand to backhand rallies and reached the quarter final with a comprehensive 6-2 6-1 win.
Tonight’s win was almost as comprehensive, Medvedev winning 59% of the points to Thursday’s 61%. When he’s on his game as he was tonight, Medvedev is like a human version of the 1980s Pong video game, tracking apparently effortlessly from side to side and sending the ball back deep enough to continuously reset the point. Rublev made just 6 unforced errors yesterday against Federer: he made 26 tonight, against 16 winners. Medvedev finished with 15 winners and 11 unforced errors.
Rublev started set 2 with a sequence of backhand slices: he’d tried A, he’d tried B, he’d try C… Medvedev, who wasn’t going to change a winning game plan, basically kept the same flat, moderate pace balls coming back to the same targets. There was some discussion on Twitter during the match about the resemblance between Gilles Simon’s game style and Daniil Medvedev’s, and I can definitely see the resemblance. So could Gael Monfils earlier this year:
It’s a little bit like Gilles… He is serving bigger than Gilles and can hit bigger than Gilles. But his game plan is very smart on the court. His mixture of play is a little bit like Gilles. When Gilles was top 6 or top 5 in the world he was a pain like Daniil.
Medvedev was a finalist in Montreal last Sunday, and this win puts him in the semis at least, taking on Novak Djokovic or Lucas Pouille tomorrow. He’ll go to New York with a minimum of 2965 ATP Ranking Points this year, about 1000 points ahead of the number 9 player in the ATP Race To London. But it’s also possible we’re seeing the early signs of a breakout, where a young player strings together multiple deep tournament runs. Medvedev will be in the 5-8 seed pool for the US Open; he might just be in a higher slot when the Australian Open comes around. He’s got a rocket strapped to his tail – will he make it into orbit, or crash and burn?