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Why Medvedev says he would prefer playing in Russia over Wimbledon, French Open


After blowing a two-set lead over Rafael Nadal across five hours and 24 minutes in the Australian Open final, Daniil Medvedev began his post-match press conference with a long monologue. “Story of a young kid who dreamed about big things in tennis,” as he called it.

He talked about his journey in the game since he’d first picked up a racquet when he was six, about wanting to play in Grand Slams against the best, about the moments of self-doubt over the years. He concluded with a stunning declaration.

“From now on I’m playing for myself, for my family, to provide (for) my family, for people that trust in me, of course for all the Russians because I feel a lot of support there… if there is a tournament on hard courts in Moscow, before Roland Garros or Wimbledon, I’m going to go there even if I miss Wimbledon or Roland Garros or whatever. The kid stopped dreaming. The kid is going to play for himself. That’s it. That’s my story.”

The 25-year old Russian has probably never even come close to being a crowd favourite, although he’s had some moments of appreciation, even in Melbourne. But over the past fortnight at the Australian Open, his already volatile relationship with fans on court eventually came to acquire an edge so sharp, it moved him to declare that he’d skip Wimbledon to play in front of appreciative home fans.

Following Medvedev’s ‘story,’ the second question from a reporter was inevitably on whether the overwhelmingly partisan crowd at Rod Laver Arena had got to him. “I’m not going to answer questions about my story, sorry,” he smiled.

The very next question was about the booing when Medvedev had walked onto court for the final. “I‘m just going to give one small example. Before Rafa serves even in the fifth set, there would be somebody, and I would even be surprised, like one guy screaming, ‘C’mon, Daniil.’ A thousand people would be like, ‘Tsss, tsss, tsss.’ That sound. Before my serve, I didn’t hear it. It’s disappointing. It’s disrespectful, it’s disappointing. I’m not sure after 30 years I’m going to want to play tennis.”

Unfriendly crowd

For years, one of the narratives in tennis has been whether the younger generation had the ability to consistently take on the ‘Big Three’ – Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – especially in the Grand Slams. Medvedev pointed out with some bitterness that when he had gone up against the trio on the big occasion, fans hadn’t wanted him to beat the greats of the game.

“There were talks like people saying we really want young generation to go for it, to be better, to be stronger. I was like pumped up. Yeah, let‘s try to give them hard time and everything. Well, I guess these people were lying because, yeah, every time I stepped on the court in these big matches, I really didn’t see much people who wanted me to win.”

The strain of having a packed stadium ganged up against him had been building up for a while before Medvedev crumbled in the final. “It‘s cumulative. But tonight (Sunday) was like the top of the mountain.”

An unfriendly crowd famously does not get to Djokovic. On the contrary, he often uses it to propel himself further. Medvedev, partly of a similar mould, seemed to be trying the same in the opening two sets, when he’d push the fans to boo him louder when he won a game. It was to be a steep fall from the top of that mountain — a two-set lead and three break points at 3-2 and 0-40 in the third; Medvedev would be reduced to applauding his own double faults, clapping sarcastically with hands over his head and giving the crowd a thumbs-up.

That the crowd was booing him even between his first and second serves had got into Medvedev’s head during his second-round win over home favourite Nick Kyrgios. Jim Courier had told him in the on-court interview that the crowd wasn’t booing him but shouting ‘Siu’, Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature celebration. Medvedev responded by telling the fans he could not hear Courier. “If you respect somebody, at least respect Jim Courier,” Medvedev had said.

Later, he added that he wasn’t expecting to be supported instead of Kyrgios, but the ones booing him “probably have a low IQ.”

Surprisingly, his third-round victory over Botic van de Zandschulp came in a considerably friendlier atmosphere, albeit on the neighbouring Margaret Court Arena. So much so that Medvedev went on to claim that he was feeling at home.

“I like coming to Australia. I feel like people support me in general here. I want to even say feeling in a way is like home. So I do think it’s much more ups than downs with Australian crowd,” Medvedev had said after beating van de Zandschulp in straight sets.

The bonhomie was to be brief. Medvedev railed against Stefanos Tsitsipas, his father, the officials and the world at large in the semi-final, calling the umpire ‘mad’ and ‘stupid’ for letting his opponent get away with on-court coaching. Fortunately for him, he pulled himself together in time.

“To be honest, I don’t think that emotions helped me too much,” Medvedev said after the four-set win over Tsitsipas. “You lose concentration and too much energy. As soon as I did it, I (thought), ‘That is a big mistake’. I am happy I (regained) concentration at the beginning of the third set.”

Learning for Novak

It was during the third set when he started losing it in the final. As if battling Nadal in a Grand Slam final wasn’t enough, he took on the crowd as well, and paid the price. Compatriot Aslan Karatsev, the world No. 15, said it wasn’t wise of Medvedev to expect anything but a one-sided crowd when he was playing Nadal.

“Of course, all the fans want to support him (Nadal). Maybe he (Medvedev) felt it was extra pressure against him. But after some time, he will understand that if you play against Rafa or Roger, of course, everybody loves them. And especially when he was injured and coming back to play in the final,” said Karatsev, who is in Pune for the Tata Open Maharashtra.

“It is not nice when someone is clapping between your first and second serves. I can understand because it has happened to me also. But you cannot tell the fans, ‘come on, support me.’ It does not make sense.”

When he was match point down against Felix Auger Aliassime in the quarter-final, Medvedev asked himself, ‘what would Novak do?’ and came back to win from two sets down for only the second time at a Grand Slam.

Maybe once he recovers from the disappointment and starts dreaming big again, the kid will realise not to let another partisan crowd get to him. It is certainly what Novak would do.





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