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'I know what I can do': Major win builds Medvedev's belief

  • Dan Imhoff

Daniil Medvedev cuts himself some slack these days since the pressure of imminent success has shifted.

Forget to empty the bins? There's always tomorrow. Running out of time to buy wife, Daria, a wedding anniversary gift? A US Open trophy will fit the bill.

The shift happened the moment he landed that maiden Grand Slam silverware in an extraordinary triumph over world No.1 Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows last year.

He was no longer one of the benchwarmers among a select group considered most likely to win a major outside the Big Three.

Daniil Medvedev beats Novak Djokovic to become US Open champion
Medvedev denied Djokovic in last year's US Open decider

The Russian had come close on hard courts twice before, with a runner-up showing to Rafael Nadal in New York in 2019 and to Djokovic at Melbourne Park last year.

As he prepared for his sixth tilt at the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, the intention was no doubt the same, but pressure came in a different form.

MORE: Men's singles draw for AO 2022

"I would say that it gave me more confidence (in) any tournament that I played afterwards," Medvedev said on Saturday. 

"Sometimes before the tournaments I could be … a little bit concerned if I was not playing well.

"Let's say, two days before the tournament, I would lose a practice set, I would be concerned, a little bit nervous, sometimes angry. It did change this. Now I feel like I know even more what I can do, how I can play, what I have to do to play like this. 

"Of course, tennis is about ups and downs … In general this gave me, US Open title, a lot of confidence, I want to say, in my life and in my tennis life as well. Yeah, definitely here the same. I'm feeling much more confident than last year in terms of knowing my game, what I'm capable of, but I don't think it means anything for the title itself."

Medvedev was left disappointed after his AO final loss a year ago

Medvedev could be pleasantly surprised. Russia's talisman rounded out last season the way he started it – with team success for his nation, this time in Davis Cup.

He opened 2021 with ATP Cup success alongside Andrey Rublev and Aslan Karatsev, and although his two teammates were late scratchings ahead of their defence in Sydney last week, he combined well with unheralded Roman Safiullin.

The pair almost carried Russia to its second successive final.

"(I've) had a lot of time to prepare (for) Australian Open … I'm feeling ready physically and mentally," Medvedev said. 

"That's the most important. That's when I can play good and beat anybody."

The second seed meets Swiss Henri Laaksonen in the opening round and could meet dangerous Australian Nick Kyrgios in his following clash before a potential rematch with the only player that beat him in last week's ATP Cup, Ugo Humbert.

This, all on the cards just to reach the second week. 

While Medvedev played down just how much his newfound Slam-winning confidence could factor into his Australian Open title pursuit, another who has stood on the dais three times before, Andy Murray, hailed the improvement he had seen from the Russian in an interview with the AO Show earlier this week.

"I think it'd be odd to expect there'd be the same dominance, like the same guys at the top of the game for 12, 14 years like you see with Rafa (Nadal), Novak and Roger (Federer) but I think for me, Medvedev, he's a really interesting character, he's got a really interesting game," Murray said.

"I love watching him play. He's done extremely well, obviously winning the US Open … I think it's obviously changing. The hope that I kind of have is that the guys that take over, they do it on the court winning, for example, Medvedev winning that big match against Novak in the final of the US Open."

It was high praise, which Medvedev duly appreciated, but was not letting it go to his head.

Cutting himself some slack was one thing now that his grand ambition had been checked off, but his feet remained firmly planted.

"It's great to hear this. Of course, we all know that the Big Three are getting older, yet they are still winning a lot of Slams," Medvedev said. 

"Every tournament that they're in, they are the favourites … I know by myself that no matter if you're playing the Big Three or anybody else, it's really tough ... It was always like this when somebody big is quitting the sport or is starting to get a little bit less good. 

"They're always saying, 'What's next? There is nothing coming'. Yet there is always somebody or something to come. I'm sure it's going to be the same."