What happens when one player owns a vastly superior clay-court record, but the other dominates the head-to-head series?
This is the state of play as Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev prepare for their highly-anticipated quarterfinal at Roland Garros on Tuesday night.
Medvedev takes a 6-1 record into this clash against Tsitsipas, who has been the form men's clay-courter in 2021.
The Greek star’s progress to this point has been no surprise; he won the Monte Carlo and Lyon titles during the European spring and was the favourite to come through the bottom half of the draw in Paris after Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were all drawn in the top half.
He has won 20 of 23 matches on clay this year and carries an eight-match winning streak into the quarterfinals, a stage at which he has never lost at a Grand Slam tournament.
And he is confident in his tennis at Roland Garros, where he came within a set of reaching last year’s final.
“Myself playing well, I feel like I don't have to think against who I'm facing or not, I just have to play my game, let the rest be witnessed,” Tsitsipas said, when asked about the prospect of facing Medvedev.
All of this – whether it be confidence, form or mindset – surely points to a Tsitsipas victory?
The only problem is the opponent.
The lopsided head-to-head record aside, perhaps more tellingly is the fact that Medvedev is undefeated against Tsitsipas at the majors (2-0) and on clay (1-0).
So what must the world No.5 do in order to reverse the trend against a nemesis?
“Play good tennis,” was Tsitsipas' straightforward answer after his fourth-round win.
Medvedev is playing his fair share of good tennis, too. And he is doing so seemingly pressure-free, considering nobody thought he would ever progress this far at Roland Garros.
As Tsitsipas went deep at last year’s tournament, Medvedev fell, yet again, in the first round, taking his career record at Roland Garros an alarming 0-4.
He did not fare much better when the clay season begun in 2021, missing Monte Carlo due to a positive COVID test then winning just one of his three tune-up matches.
He even likened playing on clay to being “in the dirt like a dog” during an epic on-court rant in Rome.
Medvedev loses two more points, turns to supervisor Gerry Armstrong, who is sitting courtside.— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) May 12, 2021
‘Gerry, please default me, it would be better for everybody.’
Yet upon arriving in Paris, everything changed.
He discovered conditions and balls to his liking. He has enjoyed support from the fans, thanks to his ability to speak fluent French. And he revealed he is treating his matches as if they are being played on a hard court, his most productive surface.
It has been a successful approach, and one that does not bode well for Tsitsipas, given that in their most recent meeting, on the Rod Laver Arena hardcourt in February at AO 2021, Medvedev overwhelmed him 6-4 6-2 7-5.
That match delivered us this iconic Medvedev celebration after his winner to break Tsitsipas late in the contest, a shot-celebration combination he replicated at an almost identical stage of his fourth-round win two days ago over Cristian Garin.
Perhaps he is tapping into the form that carried him all the way to the final at Melbourne Park less than four months ago?
“By the results this year on clay, (Stefanos is) definitely in top three, top four, together with Sascha, Novak, and Rafa on clay,” said Medvedev, who like Tsitsipas has dropped only one set en route to the quarterfinals.
“I'm really looking forward to this match and what I can propose (to) him.”