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Medvedev and Rybakina: all-surface threats

  • Matt Trollope

As the world’s best assembled in Rome, much of the talk centred on three players.

World No.1 Iga Swiatek was the prohibitive women’s favourite, aiming for her third straight title in the Italian capital and building a 14-match tournament win streak by reaching the quarters.

The men’s draw was the first of 2023 to feature the world’s top two men, Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. Their long-awaited match-up could only occur in what would have been a captivating final.

None of those players walked away with the title.

Elena Rybakina got the better of (an albeit injured) Swiatek for the third time in 2023, and went on to win her second WTA 1000 title of the year. 

A day later, Daniil Medvedev won his first ever tournament title on clay at a tournament where he had never previously won a match. 

Both continue their brilliant seasons. Rybakina has now won two big titles – Indian Wells and Rome – from four finals, owns a 30-8 record, and is at career-high ranking of world No.4. Medvedev has won 39 of his 44 matches, risen from outside the top 10 to No.2, and owns five titles already. 

Few will be surprised to see two Grand Slam champions lift more big trophies. But it is quite notable these triumphs came on slow, red clay – and is proof of their talent and versatility.

It is especially momentous for Medvedev, who has previously made no secret of his distaste for clay. 

He dropped only one set in Rome and dispatched Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Holger Rune in straight sets – all players who thrive on clay. Only a few weeks ago, Rune had beaten Medvedev 6-3 6-4 in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals.

“I never thought I would win a Masters 1000 on clay,” Medvedev told Tennis Channel.

“I’m just happy. Because I never thought I would be able to do it. When I say ‘to be able to do it’: to win some matches, yes. To maybe be in semis with a good draw or some good days, yes. But I never thought I would win a Masters 1000 on clay. 

“And I’m just super happy and proud of myself.”

To play well on a surface that does not naturally fit with his game, Medvedev discussed having to improve both his movement, and depth on his shots. He believes the latter has been aided by switching to different strings this season.

It also appears he is executing a heavier forehand with more shape, which has helped him so far build a 10-2 record on clay.

Medvedev joins 14 other active players who have won titles on all three surfaces. 

But only a select few of those have won those titles at Masters 1000 level and above on multiple surfaces. 


(With their titles at 1000 level or above coming on multiple surfaces)

Player Biggest titles on different surfaces
Novak Djokovic Career Grand Slam
Rafael Nadal Career Grand Slam
Andy Murray Wimbledon (grass), US Open (hard), Madrid & Rome (clay)
Stefanos Tsitsipas ATP Finals (hard), Monte Carlo (clay)
Daniil Medvedev US Open (hard), Rome (clay)


While Medvedev is yet to win a grass-court title above 250 level, he is well-positioned for a strong title at Wimbledon this year, according to Australian doubles legend Todd Woodbridge

And Medvedev himself feels better about his chances of producing a good showing at Roland Garros, where he was a quarterfinalist in 2021.

“I’m feeling great. It’s the best week on clay in my life. It’s always great to come into a Grand Slam with a lot of confidence,” Medvedev said. 

“But you always have strong opponents there, it’s out of five sets. Need to be 100 per cent. That’s what I'm gonna try to do.

“I still have not that big expectations in a way, but I know that I can do better than I thought so, so that’s good.”

Rybakina ready for Roland Garros

Rybakina, too, will fancy her chances in Paris, after winning the biggest clay-court title of her career. 

Like Medvedev, she was a 2021 Roland Garros quarterfinalist, a stage she reached thanks to an upset win over Serena Williams.

Now, she is one of just six women since 2009 to have won a title at WTA 1000 or above across all three surfaces.

The Kazakh is now the reigning champion at Wimbledon (grass), Indian Wells (hard) and Rome (clay), and is growing in confidence on a surface that, in theory, should blunt her powerful serve and flat power. 

That extra belief was evident against Swiatek. Blown away in the first set and trailing by a break in the second, Rybakina made it a contest thanks to improved serving and hanging better in the rallies, before Swiatek sustained her injury in the penultimate point of the second set.

“I think with my game, overall I can play good on all the surfaces,” said Rybakina, whose first career title came on clay at the WTA 250 event in Bucharest in 2019.

“It's just maybe for clay I need to be ready more physically and maybe have a lot of, like, preparation also, which not always have time to do after hard court season.

“I have good memories playing (at Roland Garros). Now I got more matches on clay, so it's a bit easier and a bit more confidence definitely.

“As I always say, (it’s) important to be healthy, be ready physically, then hopefully I can go far there.”