By Sharada Iyer
Special to Tennis With An Accent
Daniil Medvedev won the first five-setter of his career against Filip Krajinovic in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday. This milestone victory was lucky No. 7 for the Russian, who had previously gone 0-6 in fifth sets.
This number also includes his defeat to Rafael Nadal in the 2019 U.S. Open final.
Playing his first major final in that event, Medvedev didn’t cede ground to the Spaniard – even when visible trailing him in terms of the score – until the fifth set when the then-18-time Grand Slam champion’s experience in playing such fraught matches put him through.
Back then, in his on-court speech during the presentation ceremony, Medvedev had said, “The way you are playing is a big joke. It’s very tough to play against you.”
Circling back to the 25-year-old’s Australian Open win this past weekend, despite the fact that the settings of the two tournaments were as removed from each other as they could be, one wonders if the Serbian hadn’t felt saying Medvedev’s words back to him… especially since he was the one who had come into the match having won the last four five-set matches he had played. Perhaps, then, Krajinovic did feel like saying: “The way you are playing is a big joke. It’s very tough to play against you.”
Not that any player finds it easy to play against the Russian in the first place.
On any given day, Medvedev’s unorthodox style forces his opponents to come up with something extra in their game. In doing so, invariably, they fall short. In recent times, Medvedev has perfected this tactic to such a degree that he’s on a 17-match win streak – going back to the 2020 Paris Masters – and three title hauls, including the 2021 ATP Cup for Russia.
The juxtaposition of these statistics with his deciding-set record is, therefore, jarring. Or at least, it was until win his over Krajinovic. So, what was it about this match that made the difference?
Going by Medvedev’s words in his post-match presser, it all boiled down to the learning curve.
“I remember many of these five-set matches, I think like three or four of them, I would be a break up or something like this,” Medvedev pointed out, highlighting that he, too, kept up with the number-crunching on his career stats.
“I always say experience is the key for me, so this fifth set I felt like, of course, it was tight, but as soon as I got the break I was under control and in contrary with previous matches, where I could get tight and start to rush things and make some errors, here… I was really calm to finish the match,” he added, before tacking on, “I’m really happy that I got the first five-set win.”
Medvedev talking about being calm during the point then tilts the discussion to him ranting at his coach Gilles Cervara during the proceedings. After his level dipped across the third and fourth sets, the Russian had a multilingual diatribe – in French, English and his native, Russian – with his coach, even yelling at one point, “Will you let me play? Let me play!”
Cervara’s immediate decision to exit the venue – during the fourth set – and leave his charge to his own devices for the rest of the match, nearly eclipsed the result itself.
After the match, Medvedev attempted to downplay the tense moments between him and coach. Under the circumstances, these were par for the course. However, Medvedev’s self-assessment about keeping his mental reins in check during such matches, reflected how he has matured – on his own terms – in the few years of imposing himself as one of the top contenders in an event.
“Even three, four years ago, I could go crazy any match,” Medvedev said. “Now I think I have made big steps already working on my mental strengths. Sometimes I’m a very temperamental person on the court so sometimes it can still get out, and usually, it doesn’t help me to play good… I’m happy that I managed to keep my cool in the fifth set.”
From this perspective, Medvedev’s coping mechanism to “keep his cool” by yelling at his coach is a little unconventional. But then, this unconventionality is also demonstrative of his individuality. In winning his latest match, Medvedev also showed how he can harness this individuality on the court while retaining it and out-performing his rivals on a consistent basis.