5 things to know on Daniil Medvedev: Tennis’ quotable new star has a confounding game for foes
How does a tennis player go from New York villain to a crowd favourite in a matter of days?
Meet Daniil Medvedev, the Russian tennis player who had his first major run at a memorable U.S. Open in 2019 – more on that later. Medvedev, 25, has since become a mainstay at the top of the men’s game. In March of 2021, he became the first player not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray to be ranked No.2 in the world in over 15 years.
And many within the sport think he’s here to stay – for a long time.
Known for his unorthodox style of play, Medevedev now has two major finals to his name, losing in five sets to Nadal at the aforementioned U.S. Open, then reaching the championship match at the Australian Open in 2021, faltering against Djokovic.
There are few who have been able to break through against the ‘Big 4,’ but Medvedev is one – and he welcomes the challenge: “I think it’s super for tennis: We’re starting to get to take our marks,” Medvedev said of his generation challenging the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.
With the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games quickly approaching and Medvedev a threat to win there – and anywhere, really – we get to know the 6-foot-6 (1.98m) Russian, who now calls Monaco home. In April, he recovered from testing positive for Covid-19 and remains a contender at any event he enters. Here's five things to know about Daniil Medvedev.
From villain to superhero: U.S. Open, 2019
After swiping a towel from a ball person’s hand and spiraling into a verbal spat with a chair umpire during an early-round match, it was Medvedev vs. the famously fickle New York City crowd in 2019.
“Medvedev Rides a Wave of Hostility at the U.S. Open” read one headline, Medvedev – sarcastically – telling fans that they had helped him to victory.
Following two raucous wins however, he then beat Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov to make his first major final, against Nadal, and fell down two sets to love quickly. Down but not out, Medvedev would extend the match to five sets, one of the more memorable Grand Slam finals in the last few years – and earned the aplomb of those watching as he nearly toppled one of the sport’s GOATs.
Congratulating Nadal on a 19th major, Medvedev joked on court after a video played, commemorating the Spaniard’s 19 victories. “When I was [watching], and they were showing No.1, No.2... No.19. I thought, ‘If I win, what would they show?’”
In the nearly two years since that final, Medvedev has become known as one of the more honest and entertaining interviews in the men’s game.
“I'm 25 now,” he said at the Australian Open in January. “To win nine Australian Opens, I need to win every year until I'm 34. I mean, I believe in myself, but I don't think I'm able to do it. [Laughing.] Same with Rafa. I mean, 13 French Opens... ”
A confounding on-court foe
Medvedev has gained fans from his unusual playing style, too: He has incredible court sense, moving the ball around, changing pace and creating spin and angles that are often confounding for whoever he is facing across the net.
Djokovic once described it as “cat and mouse” tennis. Added Dominic Thiem, the 2020 U.S. Open winner: “It’s so tough to play him. ... You have to go in every rally almost 25, 30 shots to knock him out.”
New York Times writer Kurt Streeter described his game as such: "Stylistically Daniil Medvedev plays like dude at your local park who taught himself to play at 24 and then crushes all comers relying on strategy he learned as intramural ping pong champ — only at Grand Slam tennis level."
“He’s a master chess player on court,” former world No.1 and tennis commentator Jim Courier said this year.
“He tricks you,” added player Stefanos Tsitsipas. “He plays the game really smart.”
Medvedev has used that style of play to win 10 career titles, the biggest coming at the ATP Finals in 2020, where he beat Djokovic, Nadal and Thiem each en route.
Team Daniil: A close-knit bunch
Medvedev was born in Moscow and began playing tennis at age nine, the youngest of three kids. He made his pro debut in 2016, and the next season linked up with French coach Gilles Cervara, whom he has been with ever since.
Medvedev – along with his wife Daria (they were married in 2018) – and Cervara – are a close bunch. They all lived together during tennis’ shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic so that Medvedev could continue to train.
The Russian native, with a French coach and living in Monte Carlo, speaks fluent French – as well as English.
But close-knit also means little formality: Medvedev, when frustrated on court, can often gesture sarcastically at his team. Several times Cervara has left the stands mid-match, the coach frustrated with his charge (and perhaps vice versa) and the two giving one another some space.
Daniil Medvedev: Leading a Russian revolution
Is Russian men’s tennis on the doorstep of a golden era? If so, Medvedev is leading the charge, with four Russian men inside the top 30 as of publication date.
Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov are of the same era as Medvedev, while Aslan Karatsev a 27-year-old who spent some nine years on the lower-level circuit of tennis made the Australian Open semi-final, vaulting him to a career high.
Russia has a strong tradition in both the men’s and women’s games, but not since the likes of Marat Safin and Nikolay Davydenko has the country had a strong representation at the top of the ATP.
“If you go to the tennis clubs where juniors are participating, they don’t want to be like Kafelnikov or Safin anymore,” said Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the gold medallist at Sydney 2000, in a recent interview. “They want to be like Medvedev or Rublev or Khachanov. That’s logical. It’s a good thing for them to follow someone and try to be like those three guys.”
In January, with Medvedev, Rublev and Khachanov all in the top 20, it was the first time the country had three-top 20 ranked men in 15 years.
“Growing up, I loved watching the Russians play,” Mevedev said in 2021. “I was always supporting them. After [that] I never had an idol because I always wanted just to be myself. I didn't want to be like someone else.”
Medvedev has earned the nickname ‘Bear’ for a simple reason: His surname comes from the Russian word medved, which means “bear.”
The Russian has said he’d like Quentin Tarantino to play him in a film about his life, and calls the great Pete Sampras as his “dream opponent,” though it was countryman Safin’s 2005 Australian Open run that inspired Medvedev – then only nine – to really take on the sport.
He’s clearly not afraid to do things his own way, too: In 2019, he used a saltshaker to fight off on-court cramps. Hey, whatever will do the trick.