“I didn’t think that I could beat the top guys, not even during the first two, three years in these tournaments,” said Daniil Medvedev, just days after crushing defending champion and reigning No. 1 Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals to clinch a berth in the semifinals.
The third-seeded Russian, who now stands a good chance to challenge for a first grand slam title, seems to have benefited from the fact that he didn’t really enter the highest level of competition until he was 26. He notched his first title in the Shanghai Masters at the age of 20, and added another three months later at the Carlsbad Open.
But reaching the semifinals at this year’s U.S. Open — where he will face Sunday’s winner, Marin Cilic — was a major breakthrough. Then he could even play for a place in the final, not out of reach, at 25. He is already the most talented Russian to win a Grand Slam this century, perhaps even since Andre Agassi (who won the 1997 Australian Open).
Medvedev moved into the majors through either junior or qualifying. He had done it by default in Paris before this tournament, withdrawing with a leg injury when he led Pablo Carreno Busta by a set and a break. Medvedev, now 22, noted that he felt stronger than he did six years ago, and had struck up an excellent relationship with a sports psychologist.
And he attributed it to a change in mental preparation.
“I don’t get stressed when I lost the first set,” he said. “I’m not too tense at the beginning of a tournament.”
At the U.S. Open, he noted, he had played no drop shots, no lobs, and worked to use only his best shots in the important moments. “I feel like every moment is important when I’m playing in a big tournament,” he said.
Besides a good skin cancer patch, Medvedev does not like to talk much about himself, but he said he knew how much fans liked him, and how much they admired his bold style.
“If you see me during a practice, I’m not usually smiling,” he said. “But when I start playing in a Grand Slam tournament, I’m smiling.”