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Why Medvedev says he would prefer playing in Russia over Wimbledon, French Open

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After blowing a two-set lead over Rafael Nadal across five hours and 24 minutes in the Australian Open final, Daniil Medvedev began his post-match press conference with a long monologue. “Story of a young kid who dreamed about big things in tennis,” as he called it.

He talked about his journey in the game since he’d first picked up a racquet when he was six, about wanting to play in Grand Slams against the best, about the moments of self-doubt over the years. He concluded with a stunning declaration.

“From now on I’m playing for myself, for my family, to provide (for) my family, for people that trust in me, of course for all the Russians because I feel a lot of support there… if there is a tournament on hard courts in Moscow, before Roland Garros or Wimbledon, I’m going to go there even if I miss Wimbledon or Roland Garros or whatever. The kid stopped dreaming. The kid is going to play for himself. That’s it. That’s my story.”

Make no mistake: @DaniilMedwed will be back #AusOpen • #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/db1RTEpV5l

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2022

The 25-year old Russian has probably never even come close to being a crowd favourite, although he’s had some moments of appreciation, even in Melbourne. But over the past fortnight at the Australian Open, his already volatile relationship with fans on court eventually came to acquire an edge so sharp, it moved him to declare that he’d skip Wimbledon to play in front of appreciative home fans.

Following Medvedev’s ‘story,’ the second question from a reporter was inevitably on whether the overwhelmingly partisan crowd at Rod Laver Arena had got to him. “I’m not going to answer questions about my story, sorry,” he smiled.

“Are you tired?”

Never change, @DaniilMedwed #AusOpen • #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/6ys8NqBFs5

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2022

The very next question was about the booing when Medvedev had walked onto court for the final. “I‘m just going to give one small example. Before Rafa serves even in the fifth set, there would be somebody, and I would even be surprised, like one guy screaming, ‘C’mon, Daniil.’ A thousand people would be like, ‘Tsss, tsss, tsss.’ That sound. Before my serve, I didn’t hear it. It’s disappointing. It’s disrespectful, it’s disappointing. I’m not sure after 30 years I’m going to want to play tennis.”

Unfriendly crowd

For years, one of the narratives in tennis has been whether the younger generation had the ability to consistently take on the ‘Big Three’ – Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – especially in the Grand Slams. Medvedev pointed out with some bitterness that when he had gone up against the trio on the big occasion, fans hadn’t wanted him to beat the greats of the game.

“There were talks like people saying we really want young generation to go for it, to be better, to be stronger. I was like pumped up. Yeah, let‘s try to give them hard time and everything. Well, I guess these people were lying because, yeah, every time I stepped on the court in these big matches, I really didn’t see much people who wanted me to win.”

World class tennis player, world class speech giver #AusOpen • #AO2022 • @DaniilMedwed pic.twitter.com/l0BTWRJ1bS

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2022

The strain of having a packed stadium ganged up against him had been building up for a while before Medvedev crumbled in the final. “It‘s cumulative. But tonight (Sunday) was like the top of the mountain.”

An unfriendly crowd famously does not get to Djokovic. On the contrary, he often uses it to propel himself further. Medvedev, partly of a similar mould, seemed to be trying the same in the opening two sets, when he’d push the fans to boo him louder when he won a game. It was to be a steep fall from the top of that mountain — a two-set lead and three break points at 3-2 and 0-40 in the third; Medvedev would be reduced to applauding his own double faults, clapping sarcastically with hands over his head and giving the crowd a thumbs-up.

That the crowd was booing him even between his first and second serves had got into Medvedev’s head during his second-round win over home favourite Nick Kyrgios. Jim Courier had told him in the on-court interview that the crowd wasn’t booing him but shouting ‘Siu’, Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature celebration. Medvedev responded by telling the fans he could not hear Courier. “If you respect somebody, at least respect Jim Courier,” Medvedev had said.

Australian Open 2022, MedvedevFormer cricketer Shane Warne reacts in the stands during the final between Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Russia’s Daniil Medvedev. (REUTERS/Morgan Sette)
Later, he added that he wasn’t expecting to be supported instead of Kyrgios, but the ones booing him “probably have a low IQ.”

Surprisingly, his third-round victory over Botic van de Zandschulp came in a considerably friendlier atmosphere, albeit on the neighbouring Margaret Court Arena. So much so that Medvedev went on to state that he felt at home.

“I like coming to Australia. I feel like people generally support me here. I even want to say that feeling is somehow like being at home. So I think there are more ups and downs with the Australian crowd,” Medvedev said after beating van de Zandschulp in straight sets.

“I did my best”

We won’t soon forget it. Amazing effort #AusOpen • #AO2022 •@DaniilMedwed pic.twitter.com/egFXsBBai9

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2022

The bonhomie was going to be brief. Medvedev lashed out at Stefanos Tsitsipas, his father, the referees and the world in general in the semi-final, calling the referee “crazy” and “stupid” for letting his opponent get away with it on the court. Fortunately for him, he pulled himself together in time.

“To be honest, I don’t think emotions helped me too much,” Medvedev said after the four-set win over Tsitsipas. “You lose concentration and too much energy. As soon as I did, I (thought), ‘That’s a big mistake.’ I am happy that I (gained) my concentration at the beginning of the third set.”

Apprenticeship for Novak

It was during the third set that he started to lose in the final. As if battling Nadal in a Grand Slam final wasn’t enough, he, too, took on the crowd and paid the price. His compatriot Aslan Karatsev, the world No. 15, said it was unwise for Medvedev to expect more than a one-sided crowd when he played Nadal.

Rafa in a word: Unreal#AusOpen • #AO2022 • @DaniilMedwed pic.twitter.com/sG6S0a2Qmf

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2022

“Of course, all the fans want to support him (Nadal). Maybe he (Medvedev) felt that it was additional pressure against him. But after a while, he will understand that if you play against Rafa or Roger, of course, everyone loves them. And especially when he got injured and played in the final again,” said Karatsev, who is in Pune for the Tata Open Maharashtra.

“It’s not nice when someone claps between your first and second serve. I can understand why it has happened to me too. But you can’t tell the fans, ‘Come on, support me. Has no sense”.

 

When he lost match point against Felix Auger Aliassime in the quarterfinals, Medvedev wondered, “What would Novak do?” and he came back to win from straight sets for the second time at a Grand Slam.

Maybe once he gets over the disappointment and starts dreaming big again, the boy will realize that he shouldn’t let another partisan mob get him. It’s certainly what Novak would do.

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