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Australian Open

Daniil Medvedev Finds Out If He Is Ready For Prime Time

Matt Zemek

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Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports

The obvious headline story heading into the Australian Open fourth-round match between Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic is the fact that Medvedev doesn’t really give a flying fire truck about what he says.

Most athletes — normal athletes — don’t try to poke the bear. Most athletes try to stay quiet before a huge match, in terms of saying anything which might upset a big-name opponent.

Why provide an elite player any motivational fuel or added incentive to perform well? Medvedev just doesn’t care. He bluntly spoke about Djokovic in an unflattering way. Malicious? I don’t think so, but that’s for you to decide.

What matters is that Medvedev was not exactly delicate in this Reuters story:

“I don’t know if he was in a worse moment,” Medvedev said. “I managed to give him some fight (in previous meetings), even if I lost two times. I’ve improved a lot since then.

“I think what is good about Novak is he gives you time. It’s not like Roger (Federer), who takes the ball early, or like (Milos) Raonic when you know you’re going to run like crazy for all the match. Of course he’s a great player, but at least you can build your game–this gives you some chances.”

Okayyyyyyy… well, that’s not how I would characterize Djokovic relative to either Federer or especially Raonic, but Medvedev doesn’t care. He let it fly. He didn’t hold back. Now he gets Djokovic in the round of 16.

Everyone will focus — and rightly so — on these comments.

My interest is in how well Medvedev will perform.

It is true that Medvedev has breezed through the first week with three highly convincing victories. He has played a lot of quality tennis since late August in Winston-Salem. He has been Stefanos Tsitsipas’s central nemesis. He has also beaten Raonic multiple times in that run. He has accumulated a lot of hardcourt wins, making multiple tournament finals and winning two. He is definitely better.

However, is he ready to join the sport’s top tier?

Note that Medvedev did not get past the third round at any of the especially prestigious tournaments since his second-half surge in 2018. At the U.S. Open and the Shanghai and Bercy Masters, he was stopped early, twice by Borna Coric and once by Roger Federer. This match against Djokovic is his first fourth-round appearance at a major. At age 22, his career isn’t necessarily behind schedule, but compared to the 20-year-old Tsitsipas and 21-year-old Alexander Zverev, Medvedev is not on the same level as other members of his age cohort.

Skepticism is hardly unwarranted with Medvedev.

I don’t much care about what he said in describing Novak Djokovic.

How he plays and competes will be the true measure of where he stands.

Prime time has arrived. We will see if Daniil Medvedev belongs in the spotlight.

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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