By John Delong
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (July 18, 2017) – By his own admission, Daniil Medvedev still has some growing up to do.
The 21-year- old Russian hasn’t always been able to control his emotions, particularly his anger, and that has come back to haunt him on several occasions already in his young career.
But that may be the only obstacle keeping Medvedev from becoming one of the fastest-rising young stars in professional tennis. Through it all he has already risen to a career-best No. 49 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings, and after a great grass-court season he has huge momentum coming into the summer hard-court season.
One thing’s for sure, he’ll definitely be worth watching when he plays in this year’s Winston-Salem Open, scheduled for Aug. 19-26 at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex.
“It’s a big effort me to control my emotions better, because I’m not the calmest guy in the world,” Medvedev said recently. “I had some stories already in my career, especially when I was a kid. Let’s say when I was playing juniors, I was always missing like one month, because you get penalty points for code violations. If you get 10, you miss one month of tournaments. I think I missed like five months like this. I was just insane on the court. But I am improving, and I’m proud of myself to stay calm. I hope to do better and better mentally.”
Perhaps the best example of his contrast of sheer talent and temper came this year at Wimbledon.
The 6-6, 181-pounder opened the tournament with a stunning and convincing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 upset over fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, on Centre Court no less. All that potential was realized in what was a thoroughly dominant performance.
Yet two days later in the second round, Medvedev fell in five sets to Ruben Bemelmans, and there was an incident at the end of the match that cost Medvedev $14,500 in fines. He was so upset with the chair umpire that he took several coins out of his bag and tossed them at her.
“I did a stupid thing,” Medvedev said. “I don’t know why I did. In the heat of the moment, I was frustrated to lose the match.”
Brad Gilbert, who will again be part of ESPN’s coverage of the Winston-Salem Open, likes Medvedev’s game but is curious to see how quickly he can continue to rise up the rankings.
“Medvedev is one that nobody really talks about a lot,” Gilbert said. “But he’s 6-6 and he’s a sneaky good player. He’s already winning tour matches. I expect he is going to be real good. Already in the top 100 and he is going to be a lot higher. But he’s like stocks. He’s not at the top, and he’s got a ways to go. But I think he is going to make a solid mark.”
Medvedev, of course, is one of three #Next Gen players from Russia who are rising up in the rankings. Karen Khachanov is currently ranked No. 33, and Andrey Rublev is currently 74.
Medvedev says that their friendships are bringing out the best in them, pushing them to continually raise their level of play.
“We definitely compete with each other a lot, and you can see this,” he said. “As soon as one gets good result somewhere, the others try to also make it. Of course you will try to make it even if you don’t have other Russian guys, but it has been like this all our life. We were always trying to be the first of three. We are all playing good tennis right now and I’m really happy for all of us.”
Medvedev won four Futures and one Challenger title on his way up the rankings. His first big breakthrough on the ATP World Tour came in January when he reached the finals at Chennai, before losing to 2016 WSO runner-up Roberto Bautista Agut.
The grass season is where he really came into his own. He reached the third round at both s-Hertogenbosch and London Queens Club, and then he went all the way to semifinals at Eastbourne before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. Included in his Eastbourne triumphs were wins over Americans Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson, quite impressive considering that Querrey just made the semifinals at Wimbledon.
Then came the win over Wawrinka at SW19, for his first career win over a top 10 opponent.
“I think my game suits grass really well because I don’t have like a huge serve but it’s quite strong and very precise,” Medvedev said. “That’s the best thing for grass. I have a really flat game, which no one likes to play because you have to put the ball up after my shots. And I’m good at the key moments. So far I have been good at the key moments. So everything makes me play well on grass. It’s my favorite surface.”
Medvedev is currently fourth in the Race to Milan standings to determine the field for the #NextGen ATP Finals in November. Making the eight-player field is another motivation.
“Milan is a very good goal, because from the start of the season I was saying it’s going to be very strong,” he said. “I thought, like, top 100 would be enough, but now I see that maybe at the end of the year, you can be top 50 and don’t get in there, because all the guys are playing amazing tennis.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Winston-Salem Open has showcased great up-and- coming players throughout its history from Kei Nishikori to Grigor Dimitrov to Jack Sock to David Goffin. The trend is sure to continue this year with a large group of #NextGen players jockeying for position in the ATP World Tour’s Race to Milan. This is the fifth in a series featuring #NextGen players who could be on hand for the seventh-annual WSO Aug. 19-26.