Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic met at the 2019 Australian Open. They both left the 2019 Indian Wells singles tournament on the same Black Tuesday, along with the top two women’s players in the world, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. There has been so much carnage in the bracket — evoking visions of what is to come for American sports fans at the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — that it is sometimes hard to tell which results mean something and which results are worth shrugging off.
Djokovic is an easy case: His loss means absolutely nothing in terms of his chances at future major tournaments. Halep’s loss won’t completely change my view of her prospects at big tournaments, but since Halep did not go deep in Australia, there is more of a need for her to show up at the significant events and declare that she is still a top-tier force in women’s tennis. I don’t view Halep more negatively after her loss, but I do think this stumble puts more pressure on her to deliver a good result in Miami.
I don’t think Stefanos Tsitsipas’s loss early in Indian Wells means anything. He was deep-fried, roasted and toasted after a full February of tennis. I am not yet ready to express a lot of concern about Sloane Stephens or Madison Keys losing early, because either one of them could make a deep run in Miami. I would say that Sloane and Madison do need to get some work done in Florida, but I don’t think that an early loss in Indian Wells carries unique signs of impending problems. Those were very bad losses, the kinds of losses the two women can’t continue to collect on a regular basis, but Miami gives both women the chance to regroup and change the conversation.
Of all the early-round losses at Indian Wells — especially those on Tuesday — the most significant one, to me, was Daniil Medvedev’s loss to an in-form Filip Krajinovic.
First things first: Krajinovic, who lost to Jack Sock in the 2017 Bercy Masters final, is showing that he, not Sock, might have the better singles career when it’s all said and done. After an injury-plagued 2018, Krajinovic is beginning to demonstrate a measure of staying power on tour. If his health holds up, he could do something special, as Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo said on our podcast a month ago.
Krajinovic is the main reason Medvedev lost. No argument there. Filip flourished in fine fettle, firmly firing fierce forehands with force and focus.
Nevertheless: The way we see Medvedev as a presence on tour is very fragile and malleable at this moment. What we talked about in February, chiefly the fact that Medvedev built his large pile of wins on players outside the top 10, is even more relevant now.
Yes, it is true that Medvedev does really well indoors, but let’s not automatically associate “indoors” with “fast courts.” The ATP Finals in London have had varying court speeds over the years; the same is true with Bercy. That point aside, the chief characteristic of indoor tennis — applied broadly — is the lack of wind or intervening atmospheric conditions which distort the flight of the ball.
A flat hitter such as Medvedev wants his shots to move directly through the court, and he wants to be able to reliably time the ball. The first half of that two-part sentence points to a desire for faster courts, but the second part is more in line with medium-court tennis. In the story linked above, Medvedev has been trying to stylize himself — according to some — as a newer, better, updated version of Gilles Simon.
While Gillou can certainly make use of a fast court, as shown by results in Shanghai and in other indoor tournaments, he is also built for — and willing to engage in — the long rallies which most frequently occur on clay and medium-pace hardcourts. Medvedev showed the tennis world a very Simon-like identity at the Australian Open in his loss to Djokovic. He was willing to grind and rally and make Djokovic miss. Recall Simon playing Djokovic in Australia three years earlier; Djokovic committed 100 unforced errors over five sets against Simon. Gillou wants you to miss more than he wants to end the point himself; that is entirely in line with medium-paced tennis as opposed to fast-paced tennis.
Medvedev, after losing early in Dubai, could not reasonably claim that he was tired entering Indian Wells. This tournament was set up for him to do well. Moreover, given his weakness on clay — due to the topspin-heavy style of play, which doesn’t cater to a flat hitter — Medvedev came to the United States in March knowing that if he wanted to make a run to the top 10, this was the swing — IW and Miami — in which he needed to thrive.
Losing early in Indian Wells is not pleasant for anyone, but among all the players who did lose early in Southern California, Medvedev felt the impact more than most.
Miami now becomes a huge tournament for him. Without the sanctuary of indoor tennis to protect him, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide for Daniil Medvedev.