Djokovic v Medvedev Forecast: Suffering, Lots Of It
Serb and Russian have a history of punishing encounters
Exciting, exhausting, joyful, dreadful all at once. Those were the words Novak Djokovic used to describe his last match with Daniil Medvedev. The entirety of their two-hour, 47-minute clash in the semi-finals of January’s ATP Cup, won by Team Serbia, was a highlight reel, with each player seemingly having to hit two or three winners just to take a point.
The chess master Magnus Carlsen once said that the key to winning is to “choose the moves that are most unpleasant for his [opponent’s] style”. When Djokovic and Medvedev square off Wednesday night at The O2 in London, they’ll be doing what they always do: make life on the court as unpleasant as possible for each other.
With both players coming off of convincing wins in their opening round robin matches, the stakes for what promises to be a dynamic Serbian-Russian duel are clear. Nole, as he’s known in Serbia, can qualify for the event’s semi-finals with a win plus a Zverev loss to Schwartzman in Wednesday’s opening singles match. He can also qualify with a straight-sets win, along with a Zverev win in three sets.
The Russian will advance with the inverse scenario: a win, combined with a Zverev win or a straight-sets win, along with a Schwartzman victory in three sets. Is it any wonder that the Nitto ATP Finals is the favourite tournament of math majors everywhere?
After his win over Zverev, Medvedev said that he’s looking forward to the challenge of facing Novak, even though it will undoubtedly entail some suffering.
“I like to play against Novak,” said Medvedev, 24, who is No. 4 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “We have tough matches, you know… I think in these conditions we have here, we can have a lot of long rallies. We are both going to run well.”
The men have faced each other six times in their ATP Head2Head series. Djokovic has a 4-2 edge, but Medvedev has won two of the last three, in Cincinnati and Monte Carlo. Their past three matches have been cracking affairs that have gone the distance. Their first rumble came in 2017 in a Davis Cup tie in front of a raucous crowd in Nis, Serbia. It couldn’t have been a more intimidating environment for Daniil, then ranked No. 63, but he stunned Djokovic and the partisan crowd by taking the first set and going up a break in the second. The dizzying rallies caught up with Medvedev though, in what remains their only meeting on an indoor court.
“After we had these tough points, I couldn’t breathe deeply,” the Moscow native said after retiring from the match in the fourth set. “There wasn’t enough oxygen and air in the arena, so I started cramping.”
He lost the match but he earned Nole’s attention and respect. “Medvedev is a terrific young player and it’s a pity he had to retire because of cramps,” Djokovic said after the match. “I am sure he will enjoy lots of success on the ATP Tour if he carries on working hard.”
The Russian did just that and has had a meteoric rise up the FedEx ATP Rankings, particularly last summer when he charged into the Top 5 with wins in Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, and Shanghai, coupled with loses in the final at the US Open, Montreal and Washington, D.C. He comes into this match with a 24-10 record on the season, compared to 40-3 for the Serb.
After beating the Russian in their last battle royal in Sydney, Djokovic fell to the ground in exultation and exhaustion. During the match, he was doubled over, seemingly gasping for breath, on several occasions, just as Medvedev was in Nis three years before. The players shared a warm embrace after the match, like two gladiators who had pushed themselves to the max, earning more respect for the other in the gruelling process. After the match, Djokovic said it was one of the most exciting matches he’s played in the past few years.
“He showed why he's one of the best players in the world, why he's Top 5,” said Djokovic, 33, who inaugurated a ski slope named after him in Bosnia this summer. “This kind of consistency and this kind of solid game from back of the court, big serves got him to where he is. He deserves to be there.”
Wednesday’s rematch figures to be slightly more critical for Djokovic to win because his next opponent — Zverev — has had more success indoors this season than Schwartzman, who is up next for Medvedev. As Djokovic said after their last affair, the match might be exhausting and dreadful for the players to endure, but it’ll be an exciting and joyful one for the fans.