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Novak Djokovic leads Daniil Medvedev 6-4 in their ATP Head2Head series.

Djokovic & Medvedev To Renew Rivalry In Astana

They will meet on Saturday in Astana semi-finals

He was a 19-year-old prodigy ranked somewhere in the hundreds, but he had been invited to practice in Monaco with the World No. 1 player – at the height of his game, coming off a second consecutive Wimbledon triumph.

More than seven years ago, this was the first on-court meeting between Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic.

“He’s not going to speak to me,” Medvedev, who considered Djokovic a god, thought to himself. “I came there and because I was shy, I didn’t speak. So he was asking me questions, talking to me like a friend. I was really surprised and it never changed since I was 600 in the world or four.”

Medvedev related this story early last year, after Djokovic defeated him in the 2021 Australian Open final in straight sets and less than two hours.

“It’s a matter of time when you’re going to hold a Grand Slam that’s for sure,” Djokovic told him during the trophy ceremony. “But if you don’t mind waiting a few more years.”

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Medvedev, as it turned out, minded.

Less than seven months later, at the US Open, Medvedev defeated Djokovic – in straight sets – for his first major title. Those two major finals in 2021 were the eighth and ninth meetings at the ATP Tour level and they have established one of the best rivalries in professional tennis today.

On Saturday, at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan, they meet for the 11th time (6 p.m., local time) in a highly anticipated semi-final match. Djokovic advanced with his seventh consecutive victory, 6-4, 6-3, over Karen Khachanov. Later, Medvedev scorched Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-1.

No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas meets No. 5 Andrey Rublev in Saturday’s first semi-final.

“We meet again,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview, “and I’m really happy. I feel like it’s not a bad rivalry, not of course close to Novak against Roger [Federer] or Rafa [Nadal], but still … I need to be at my best tomorrow.”

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Tantalizingly, this is their first meeting of 2022. That might not be the case if Djokovic had played the Australian Open or the US Open. Djokovic, at 35, is nine years older than Medvedev and playing with a historic sense of urgency. He trails Rafael Nadal in the all-time Grand Slam singles count 22-21 and you get the idea that, going forward, Medvedev may well play a role, one way or another, in shaping that race.

It’s been a fascinating matchup, going back to their first meeting five years ago in Davis Cup. Djokovic took that one and the first three overall, before Medvedev – then 23 – responded with back-to-back victories in 2019 at the ATP Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. They split in 2020, with Djokovic winning an early match at the ATP Cup in Australia and Medvedev scoring a victory at the Nitto ATP Finals.

In their most recent match, at last year’s ATP Masters 1000 in Paris, Djokovic came back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to win his record-extending sixth title in Paris and collect his record 37th Masters 1000. That match underlined just how evenly matched these two players are.

“I think the similarity that we both have is that we are controlled attackers, we are good in defense,” Djokovic explained in his post-match press conference. “I think his anticipation is really, really good and he’s so solid, particularly from the backhand side. He doesn’t make many mistakes at all.

“He makes you run and work for every single point and he tries to wear you out – but that is kind of also my formula throughout my career.”

This year, although they never crossed paths on the court, they engaged in an entertaining back-and-forth in the Pepperstone ATP rankings. On 28th February, Medvedev rose to No. 1 for the first time, supplanting Djokovic. That reign was brief, only three weeks, but it happened again in mid-June. This time, Medvedev held No. 1 for 13 weeks – before his 2021 US Open points came off and 2022 winner, Carlos Alcaraz, ascended the throne.

Both players have plenty of motivation here. While fifth-placed Medvedev is in a better position regarding the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Turin, neither man has qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals as of yet. Medvedev, who trails Djokovic 6-4 in head-to-head play, would like to narrow that count.

Djokovic said that playing Medvedev will be his biggest challenge so far in Astana.

“I’m expecting a physical battle,” Djokovic said. “I know that I have to be ready to play very long points. Hopefully, I can serve well. That’s going to be important. I know he’s going to serve really well, he’ll have some free points on his first serve. Going to try to get some returns in play, make him play, make him uncomfortable.

“I know the tactics, but I don’t want to talk about it too much in the media – save it for the match.”