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Daniil Medvedev — Man and Method and Mystery

Matt Zemek

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John E. Sokolowski -- USA TODAY Sports

The best man in the world of tennis is Novak Djokovic. The most interesting man in the tennis world could be any of a number of players, but for me, Daniil Medvedev is high on the list.

To be sure, Stan Wawrinka — by making the Rotterdam final and moving up several more spots in the ATP rankings — has made himself a much more interesting presence on tour. If he can get a top-24 seed before Roland Garros, meaning he would avoid the top eight until the round of 16, his chances of making a run in Paris become much more realistic. That would add a lot of spice to this tennis season.

Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Big 3 — they are all highly compelling figures, and everyone can’t wait to find out how they will fare in the coming months.

Yet, Medvedev can’t be excluded from this group of players — maybe not on clay in particular, but over the course of this whole season. He has made it hard if not impossible to exclude him from the ATP conversation right now. He has racked up a lot of victories in this young season.

Medvedev lost to Gael Monfils in the Rotterdam semifinals on Saturday, but making the semis after winning the Sofia title the previous weekend represents a very good result and another strong week.

Moreover, Medvedev is cultivating an identity and a method, as these tweets (with a linked article tucked inside the first tweet) begin to show:

I have said that if Gilles Simon had a serve, he would have won a major title by now. The idea of a “Gillou 2.0,” a player who can play Simon’s retrieval game but do it better — and offer a bigger, better serve to win more cheap points during matches — is fascinating to contemplate, and it does offer the possibility of a very prosperous career for Medvedev.

How he played Djokovic in Melbourne — like Simon, yet beyond the limits of Simon — suggests that he can continue to rise on tour and make himself an entrenched part of the sport’s upper tier. I certainly can understand why a lot of people are high on Medvedev.

However, there is a flip side with the young Russian, and it emerges on multiple fronts: First, the damage he is doing to the ATP Tour is occurring outside the top 10.

That’s not a criticism of Medvedev, merely an undeniable limitation connected to what he is doing.

Let’s be clear: Medvedev has mopped up most of his tour counterparts over the past few weeks. He is beating players he is supposed to beat, a very good sign for his future. Nikoloz Basilashvili and Karen Khachanov have not done the same. Medvedev deserves to be commended for what he has done. One can do that, however, and still note that his parade of wins have come outside the top 10. It is a natural inclination to wonder if these wins will translate to bigger scalps as the 2019 season continues.

The other reality one has to acknowledge is that Medvedev is playing in the first half of February while the Big 3 take it easy. Medvedev’s tank ran on empty late in the Monfils Rotterdam semifinal. He might try to be Gilles Simon 2.0, but with his bigger body, he invites the same kind of risks Alexander Zverev has fallen victim to: grinding his body down and not having enough fuel in five-set matches.

Medvedev has very few points to defend for a good portion of this year, so he is naturally pursuing chances to pile up points now and get to the top 10 for the first time in his career. At his age — he just turned 23 — why not? Sure. Go for it.

However, as is the case with Zverev (and something I have written about), the scheduling practices of the present moment shouldn’t be viewed as a sustainable long-term model. Moreover, if Medvedev really does want to follow the Gilles Simon template, this will demand taking plenty of breaks within a season and making sure he is fresh for the most important tournaments. Playing Sofia and Rotterdam isn’t what top players generally do.

Give Medvedev ample credit for racking up lots of match wins and doing what many of his peers have failed to do. Yet, one can give credit and yet still point out how mysterious this career is.

That’s not a criticism. It’s a limitation. Medvedev has answered many questions this year, but some important ones remain unanswered.

The man, the method, the mystery — Daniil Medvedev will be at the forefront of the ATP conversation heading into Indian Wells and Miami.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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