Daniil Medvedev’s 2021 results, paired with his significant inward confidence, puts the Russian “way up the top of that favourites list” when Australian Open 2022 begins on 17 January.
This is the view of Australian doubles legend Todd Woodbridge, who has observed with interest Medvedev's physical and mental growth – improvement which culminated with his first major singles title at this year’s US Open.
This was the high point in an incredible 2021 season for Medvedev, who finished it at world No.2 after winning a tour-leading 63 matches, plus four tournament titles.
Not long after reaching the AO 2021 final, where he fell to Novak Djokovic in straight sets, Medvedev ascended to No.2, becoming the first non-Big Four player to crack the top two since 2005.
He then avenged his loss to Djokovic in the US Open final with a straight-sets triumph, ending the world No.1’s quest for a calendar-year Grand Slam at the very final hurdle.
That victory in New York came two years after Medvedev very nearly beat Rafael Nadal in the 2019 US Open final, continuing what tennis broadcaster Sam Smith felt was an process of solidification into one of the game’s very best.
"Medvedev has played at a consistently high level now for almost three seasons. It wasn't as though he just had a great couple of weeks (in New York),” said Smith, a former top-60 player and British No.1.
"The casual tennis fan really needs to get to know Medvedev, because he's a very different kind of character. And I think now that he's won a Grand Slam, that will start to come out.”
Woodbridge feels similarly, admiring the fact Medvedev combines a “quirkiness” with champion qualities like supreme confidence and absolute belief in his own game.
He described a moment where, a few years ago, he found himself in an elevator with Medvedev after the Russian had completed some media duties at the Australian Open.
"He was saying: ‘I'm playing so good, I made no unforced errors in my match today.’ And very rarely have I ever been with a tennis player who tells you that,” Woodbridge recalled.
“I've been around the greatest of players, and chatted to them since I've played, and ... I've seen people look the part and try to throw out this air of confidence and invincibility, but for me that's always a bit of a front. But with him, I didn't read it in the sense of him big-noting; I just see it as this inward confidence. And I liked that about him; there was excitement in the way he delivered it. Like, this is going to be great.
“A lot of players will get to be in great form like that, but be worried about losing. I don't think that's the case with him.
"He seems to believe that it's just a matter of time before all of these (great) things happen. Winning the US Open wasn't a surprise to him, and I don't think winning an Australian Open would be a surprise at all.
“I think he thinks it should be his.”
An Australian Open title for Medvedev would certainly reflect the form guide, especially considering his hard-court prowess.
Twelve of his 13 career titles have come on either outdoor or indoor hard – and the Australian Open can be a combination of both – while his collective win-loss record at the two hard-court majors in Melbourne and New York currently stands at 33-9.
Woodbridge believes the 25-year-old perfectly suits the surface thanks to his clean, flat ball-striking, height and movement, and especially considering physical and technical improvements to his game – becoming a better, more coordinated athlete, and developing a “Federer-like” ability to race through service games, despite being equally comfortable grinding out matches and playing long rallies.
"He likes the ball low, so that's not a problem, and at 6’6” it's hard to get it up high on him,” Woodbridge observed. “And on hard court, he gets that ball in the strike zone (so nicely) that he's just able to lean in and almost hit down on the ball into the court.”
Then there are the mental gains, which Woodbridge feels allowed him to turn the tables on Djokovic in the US Open final and which have positioned him for more Grand Slam success.
"I think he was a tad overawed in the last Australian Open final, by the whole occasion. But I think that was experience he needed to have,” Woodbridge said.
“I think Medvedev learned enormously about dealing with the expectation of the final. And I think (because of) what he went through, he realised the enormity of the occasion that Novak was dealing with (in New York).
“He could have easily played that match at his end of the court, but he realised how much of a burden was going to be on Novak’s shoulders, and he played at a level for long enough in the opening set to see whether Novak was stressed or not.
“There’s a maturity there. That comes with a really good mental attitude and an ability to look at the other end of the court to understand what's happening mentally from your opponent.