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Medvedev and mystery go together again, but this time in a better way

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Remember the version of Daniil Medvedev who blitzed through February and piled up a lot of wins? Remember the version of Medvedev who didn’t have much to offer in March? Remember the version of Medvedev who beat Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo on Good Friday? Remember the version of Medvedev who then lost to Dusan Lajovic the next day after leading 5-1 in the first set?

Those are different tennis manifestations of the same person.

This week in Barcelona, the man who didn’t handle semifinal pressure very well was able to learn and apply a lesson against Kei Nishikori. Medvedev and Nishikori met multiple times in the second half of the 2018 season, so they not only know what to expect from each other; those expectations are fresh in both players’ minds. That familiarity created a tough, close, interesting, and generally well-played Barcelona semifinal on Saturday. Medvedev — down a break early in the third — was able to regroup and eventually gain the upper hand.

The clouds of uncertainty after March and the Sunshine swing through both coasts of the United States have been dispelled by the Russian. He is pursuing his top-10 debut with the consistent bread-and-butter game which deprived Nishikori of a comfort zone.

This is a quality win for a man who — before the Djokovic triumph in Monte Carlo — had feasted on players outside the top 10. Making the Barcelona final means a significant point pickup. A win in the final over Dominic Thiem would add to his upward climb on tour.

The points and the positioning in future draws represent the most tangible benefits for Medvedev at the moment. How significant is this win for his confidence and as a measurement of his game against the other elites of the tour? I don’t know… and that is an answer we have to think about in the coming weeks.

Let’s acknowledge this: Thiem — who will face Medvedev in the final — is playing the best clay tennis of anyone in the top 10 right now. Thiem convincingly beat Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s second semifinal. Novak Djokovic is in a slump. Alexander Zverev is mired in something more than a slump. Roger Federer won’t play live clay tennis until Madrid. Thiem struggled in Monte Carlo but found the range in Barcelona.

The bigger point: The elites aren’t really playing elite-level tennis.

We need to see what Medvedev will do when the elites start playing elite ball again. It’s not Medvedev’s flaw or fault or deficiency that we can’t answer the question of what he will do in the face of prime opposition. Yet, that is the mystery surrounding Medvedev as we head into May on the ATP Tour.

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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