Daniil Medvedev is back in business! And after a strange period spent in the wilderness, we have received the strongest possible reminder of what he is capable of.
I recently wrote a piece about confidence and mindset, in reference to Iga Swiatek’s Australian Open defeat, and subsequent form resurgence.
Medvedev’s subtle shift in confidence by his own admission was an even more stark reminder of the significant role the mind plays in sport.
His agonising defeat in last year’s Australian Open led to a strange season, that although still relatively successful, created question marks over his ability to respond.
So often in recent years we have seen an emerging star have their confidence destroyed by a member of the big three, and it looked like Medvedev was set to suffer that fate.
He lost four straight finals and saw his winning percentage drop to 65 for the season after that Australian Open loss. Two titles late in the year served to build some confidence, but a look at the numbers was still worrying.
In the three seasons’ previous his winning percentages had been
Medvedev spoke incredibly openly about his passion after that Nadal loss in 2022, and his words at this year’s Australian Open after he lost to Sebastian Korda were equally inciteful.
“That's tough because probably that's something about confidence, like being in the zone, and I haven’t been there for a long time,” Medvedev said
“It’s just something about the feeling. And that's why tennis is so tough because in the top 30 everyone can beat everybody.
“Of course, the top ten are more consistent, and that is why, actually, I'm dropping down a little bit now, but everyone can beat everybody. Even Novak can lose sometimes.”
The mark of a champion has always been their ability to respond to challenges, and to concur any self-doubt that might emerge.
The 2021 US Open champion hasn’t lost since that Korda defeat, and has peeled off 15 straight wins and three consecutive ATP titles.
Only Andy Murray (2011), Casper Ruud (2021) and Felix Auger Aliassime (2022) have won three straight ATP events in the last 15 years.
Medvedev has also won four straight matches against top ten players, taking all eight sets along the way, including snapping the 16-match unbeaten run of Novak Djokovic. That is particularly significant when assessing 2022.
Medvedev lost nine straight matches against players ranked in the top ten, the first of which was the heartbreaking Australian Open final loss to Nadal.
He lost 18 of his last 23 sets played in those matches, and he spoke about the confusion he was feeling in how to dig himself out of the rut.
“Right now, I'm struggling to win these kinds of matches against opponents that can play at a good level. That's what I have to get back.” Medvedev said in Melbourne during the Open.
The shift in confidence is obvious, with Medvedev discussing his current purple patch which has led to titles in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai.
“The way I played these three tournaments was top level. Especially Dubai was probably the best out of the three. I was really playing well. Again, beating Novak (Djokovic) and Andrey (Rublev), the scoreline I managed to do, the confidence I managed to do it, was amazing. So right now, I'm feeling amazing,” Medvedev said this week.
“The more I can achieve this season, the better. If I can manage to keep the level I played these three weeks, I can do big things and I know it.
“I’ve never won three tournaments in a row so it’s a great time.”
Medvedev has returned to number seven in the world, and improved his record against Novak Djokovic to 5-9, but significantly it is 5-6 since Monte Carlo in 2019.
His ability to challenge the world’s best player is still the standout amongst all active competitors, and his return to form is fantastic for those hoping the next generation can help change the guard.
He is the only player to defeat Djokovic in a best of five set match outside of Rafael Nadal, since the 2019 French Open (excluding retirements and DQ’s).
Medvedev is very aware that although he has recaptured his spark, things can change quickly at the highest level.
“Tomorrow, I have a long flight to Indian Wells. New tournament, new story. I want to win some matches there and I want to win the tournament. I could lose first round, and the confidence is gone.” He said with a smile.
When assessing the rest of the chasing back, Medvedev identified a pair of young names, both of whom are making waves already.
“I have to say Alcaraz is the best pick because he is the youngest No. 1 in world history. We have guys like Novak, Rafa, Roger, and he beat this record where you kind of thought that there are no more records to beat at the moment.” He added.
“The way he hits the ball, it's pure talent. You cannot really practice this. The power he has on the forehand. He can win a lot of things.
“If you asked me, I need to pick him. Holger Rune is super young, has won a Masters already and is playing great.
“Tennis is never easy. You never know how people's careers is going to go. If I have to pick two, they are the youngest and the highest ranked.”