BY JOHN DELONG
Daniil Medvedev almost didn’t come to this year’s Winston-Salem Open. Then he thought he was going to be an early-round casualty. But the 22-year-old Russian wound up as the last man standing late Saturday afternoon, as he defeated Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-4 on Stadium Court to claim the 2018 WSO title. It was Medvedev’s second ATP World Tour title of the year and it concluded an impressive week in which he never dropped a set.
"It feels amazing,” Medvedev said. “At the beginning of the week I didn’t think it was going to go so well. I was playing quite good, but I didn’t feel I was at the right form to win a title. I started quite slow. I could have lost the first match. So to win the title is incredible.”
Medvedev will now rise to a career-high No. 36 when the new ATP World Tour rankings are released on Monday. He came into the tournament ranked No. 57. "Honestly when I played my first match it was against Mirza Basic, I was up 6-4, 5-0 but I was so tired, it was so hot, it was so humid, I was like, ‘How am I going to win six matches to win the tournament? It’s not my tournament,’” he said. “And then I won it! That’s crazy.”
Medvedev, known affectionately as the “Mini-Bear” with his 6-6 frame, got the only break of the first set to go up 5-4, and then he served out the set from there. He got his second break in the seventh game of the second set for a 4-3 lead and then held twice the rest of the way.
He credited his serve as the difference-maker.
"I was little tight the whole match," Medvedev sid. "It's a fina, of course I would be tight. He was maybe a little tired. Maybe that's why I won. The thing that helped me was I was serving good. That was the most-important thing in the match. I think that's why I won it."
Medvedev had started the tournament with a win over Basic, then beat DeMinaur, Guido Andreozzi, Ryan Harrison and Tara Daniel in succession to reach the final.
Interestingly, he beat DiMinaur for the Sydney title in front of a pro-DiMinaur crowd of Aussies; and Saturday he prevailed despite a very pro-Johnson crowd.
“This year I have beaten many times the crowd favorite,” Medvedev said. “Not only DiMinaur, but other guys in their home town. I don’t know why. It’s a tennis match, I want to win all my matches, whether I play a home favorite or not. But it is nice to beat a player the crowd is rooting for. You don’t think about that when you’re out there but afterward it’s nice. So beating him here is better than if I beat him in France, let’s say.”
Johnson was looking to become the first player this year to win titles on three different surfaces. He won in Houston onclay this spring and started the summer with a win in Newport on grass.
Johnson, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, had defeated Tommy Paul, Jaume Munar, third-seeded Kyle Edmund and second-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta en route to the finals.
“He played really well,” Johnson said of Medvedev. “He didn’t make many errors. Unfortunately it wasn’t my best day of tennis, but that’s life. I didn’t find a way to get it done. I didn’t play well on the big points. So now I have some things to clean up before the Open. Credit to him. I thought he played well. It’s definitely a bummer for me. I would have liked to have gotten a hard-court title here in the States. But it wasn’t meant to be.”