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Woodbridge: Mind game key for Medvedev at US Open

  • Matt Trollope

Can Daniil Medvedev turn around a somewhat indifferent season at the site of his greatest career achievements?

This is a central plotline at the upcoming US Open, where the world No.1 is the defending champion and, on paper, the favourite to repeat his New York success.

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Last year at Flushing Meadows, Medvedev earned his first major title, doing so in those most resounding way possible by beating then-dominant world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the final. Tennis writer Peter Bodo noted Medvedev could “claim distinction as the only player in history to have stopped a Grand Slam from happening at the very last opportunity”.

READ MORE: Medvedev stuns Djokovic to win first major title

Twelve months on, Medvedev, according to Australian legend Todd Woodbridge, will experience a new set of challenges on his return, adding a degree of difficulty to his title defence.

"He's had that steady progression upwards the whole way, and this year there’s been nowhere else to go when you're No.1,” Woodbridge told

"I think it will be tough for him to defend his title. I think he'll go well, but I think there will be the expectation of points, of trying to maintain that No.1 ranking. There's just all these variables.

“Whereas in the previous 12 months he learned to get rid of the distraction and play great tennis, I think the distractions have crept into his game and have built pressure on him.”

The US Open was where Medvedev’s career reached a new level; in 2019 he passed the fourth round at a major tournament for the first time and went all the way to the final. Since then he has reached three more major finals and become one of the game’s strongest Grand Slam performers.

In that 2019 US Open final, he trailed Rafael Nadal by two-sets-to-love and by a break in the third, yet completely turned the contest and nearly snatched the title.

Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite scenario when the two met again in the Australian Open 2022 final.

It was Medvedev who led by two-sets-to-love and by 2-3, 0-40 in the third, only to see his lead, and the match, slip away in five epic sets.

Medvedev, arguably, has not been the same since. And Woodbridge agrees.

"I think how his year has played out has a lot to do with the Australian Open final loss. To lose a match from that position leaves scar tissue,” he said.

“It changes the mentality of a player, until he's able to actually win another one. You very rarely get second chances at those levels.

“I think he's had to unravel that mentally.”

Following that AO 2022 loss, Medvedev failed to make a final in his next six events, missed nearly two months of competition due to a hernia which required surgery, lost back-to-back grass-court finals to lesser-fancied opponents in June, and was then was forced to miss Wimbledon along with all other Russian and Belarusian players.

However, Medvedev showed signs of turning a corner when revisiting North American hard courts.

He beat Cameron Norrie in the Los Cabos final to snap a five-match losing streak in finals and claim his first title since that US Open triumph 11 months earlier.

Although he lost to the surging Nick Kyrgios in his opening match at the Montreal Masters, Medvedev bounced back to reach the Cincinnati semis.

"I think if he can play outside his own head, he will do well. He's a tactically astute player; if he can just focus down the other end of the court to what is happening there, and what he needs to do, then he'll give himself the best chance of winning again,” Woodbridge said.

“If too much of it becomes internal, and we see that sometimes chippy, temperamental Medvedev, that would suggest immediately that there are other things in his mindset that would make it very hard to win.”

The other main contenders

Rafael Nadal

The abdominal injury which forced the Spaniard to pull out of his Wimbledon semifinal meant he looked rusty on return in a three-set loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati, his only tune-up for the US Open.

Yet even with limited matches during an injury-plagued 2022, Nadal remains undefeated at this year’s Grand Slams.

New York also brings out some of his best tennis; Nadal has won four US Open titles, the most recent in that aforementioned 2019 battle versus Medvedev.

"There's no guarantee that a stomach muscle for him is still going to be OK,” Woodbridge cautioned. “Those types of injuries are the ones that you actually need to play gently in – coming into one big tournament and playing is hard.”

Carlos Alcaraz

US Open 2021 was where Alcaraz’s career took off, with the teenager stunning Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets before going on to reach his first major quarterfinal.

After a blazing start to 2022 that featured four titles before Roland Garros, the now-world No.4 has plateaued, but remains a formidable threat.

“I called an Alcaraz match on Court 1 at Wimbledon and I've never seen a 19-year-old play with such an all-court game so well on a surface that was slightly foreign to him,” Woodbridge said.

“His whole game is so well-rounded, but I feel it's another 18 months on surfaces other than clay to gather just enough shot selection and timing to get there.

“But his attitude, physicality, ability to keep points short if necessary, makes him the outside contender at the US Open.”

Jannik Sinner

Alcaraz’s Wimbledon run was ultimately stopped by Sinner, who advanced to the quarterfinals and stretched Djokovic to five.

The talented Italian has now reached the quarterfinals at all majors except the US Open, where he fell in the last 16.

Slightly down from his peak ranking of No.9, the 21-year-old has nevertheless won 11 of his past 14 matches as he continues to accrue big-stage experience.

“He doesn't bring as much of a skill-set as Alcaraz,” Woodbridge said, “but ball-striking wise, out of the middle of the racquet, he is fantastic.”

Nick Kyrgios

The recent Wimbledon finalist followed that result up with victory at the ATP 500 event in Washington DC – his first title in three years – to reinforce his status as a US Open threat.

The Australian has won 22 of his past 27 matches and since the beginning of August has slashed his ranking from No.63 to No.26 – guaranteeing a seeding at Flushing Meadows.

The most significant of those wins came against top-ranked Medvedev in Montreal.

“He talks about (his matches) being entertainment and a show, but the best show I've watched lately is the shot-making, the serving, the actual tennis. That's been the show. And I think he's also winning matches easier, because of that,” Woodbridge observed.

“If he can keep that mindset, that's what might get him deep into the US Open.”

Casper Ruud

With his semifinal at the Montreal Masters, Ruud continues to develop into a big threat on surfaces other than clay.

The Norwegian is playing more aggressively and has scored top-20 wins over Matteo Berrettini, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Roberto Bautista Agut since Wimbledon, notching almost 40 match wins this year entering the US Open.

“He's become this era's David Ferrer, that solid, week-in week-out grinder,” Woodbridge said. “If we go back a few eras, those types of players won one or two majors. It just didn't happen for 15 years because of the Big Three.

“He's as likely, I feel, as any of this group at the moment, to sneak through.”

Pablo Carreno Busta

The eventual winner in Montreal, Carreno Busta is also twice a US Open semifinalist and is back in the top 15 after claiming his first ever Masters-level title.

"PCB is always good for a good run on the hard courts. He is such a solid player, and a guy who, given the right draw, will go deep,” Woodbridge said.

Borna Coric

Coric was an unlikely yet exciting eventual champion at the Cincinnati Masters, backing up his win over Nadal by beating three straight top 10 opponents in Felix Auger-Aliassime, Cameron Norrie and Stefanos Tsitsipas to claim his first title since 2018.

It was a heartwarming return from shoulder surgery, and vaulted him from outside the world's top 150 to his current mark of No.29.

It means he'll be seeded at the US Open, where he was a quarterfinalist in 2020 – his best ever Grand Slam result.