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Surprising even himself, Medvedev is becoming a threat on clay, too

It has taken some time but the Russian is starting to believe that he can compete against the very best players on a surface he once struggled on

Daniil Medvedev, Roland-Garros 2022 Daniil Medvedev, Roland-Garros 2022 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It took Daniil Medvedev five attempts to win a match at Roland-Garros, the Russian’s feet floundering on the clay, a fish out of water.

Two years on, he’s one win away from reaching the quarter-finals for the second year in a row and he has improved so much on the surface that many people are tipping him to even further.

Let’s be clear, Medvedev is still well behind Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitispas in terms of favouritism for the title. But something has changed in the mindset of the Russian. His performance in beating Miomir Kecmanovic in straight sets was perhaps his best ever on clay and he’ll go into his fourth-round match with Marin Cilic (night session, Monday) with a rare confidence.

“To be honest, before the match, I would never thought I could make this score happen on clay courts,” he said, after beating Kecmanovic. “Everything I wanted to do today worked. I was serving great. I feel like I was almost putting all the returns in.”

Medvedev playing freely after surgery

Considering he only had hernia surgery in April, the world No 2 is ahead of the curve in physical terms. Mentally, he seems refreshed. He knows people see him as vulnerable on clay but he’s playing freely.

“I think every time somebody comes up to me playing on clay, they’re going to be like, we have the chance,” he said. “Maybe on hard courts they are still going to believe but maybe they are going to be a little bit scared or whatever. Here I think everybody believes they can beat me.

“Like today, again, I played a really great match and I’m sure Miomir during the match was like, ‘does this guy not love clay or what’s happening? It’s true, yeah, second set, I mean, it’s also normal, he’s a great player so he tried to mix up his game. I saw it, I tried to adapt.”

Cervara: Less pressure on Medvedev this year

Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara, believes his man is playing with less pressure than usual. Though the US Open champion knows he will not be able to play Wimbledon due to the ban on Russian and Belarussian players – unless something changes before the tournament begins – he does not seem bothered by the need to bank ranking points.

“My view is that the surgery took pressure off a little bit,” Cervara told Tennis Majors. “You can relax more, it decreases your own by expectation, let’s recall that he wasn’t even sure to play it (Roland-Garros).

“ Last year, when he happened to make errors on the court, it took big proportions, nothing worth it really. This year, the tournament is a bonus, so the approach is quiet, so it changes the reaction on the mistakes. You don’t focus on them, you don’t overthink, the brain takes it easy, he’s going to the next step, the next shot, the next point.”

Daniil being Daniil – ex-N°1, Grand Slam winner, very high average level – he can play at his real level

Gilles Cervara
Daniil Medvedev and Gilles Cervara, Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, 2022
Daniil Medvedev and Gilles Cervara, Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, © Tennis Majors

Medvedev will probably never be as comfortable on a clay court as he is on hard courts, but he is enjoying it, which is half the battle. A fluent French speaker, he has endeared himself to the crowd and he feels at home.

“Daniil being Daniil – ex-N°1, Grand Slam winner, very high average level – he can play at his real level,” Cervara said. “It brings more points, more games, more wins, it leads to a positive process regarding the self-belief.

“That said, we are still very far from a thought close to winning Roland-Garros. It’s the round of 16, we are still waiting for a big test. For the old Daniil on clay, those previous matches were big matches, we prepared them being very humble. Humility and relax attitude led to three quick victories. What’s his real level against the best clay player ? We don’t know but hopefully we’ll know soon, next week.”

Russian pain-free, not far from his best

Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Medvedev is that he’s playing without pain, having made a fast recovery from the hernia operation. He may not be at his very best, yet, but he’s not far off it.

“I’m progressing in that direction,” he said. “Physically (against Kecmanovic) I felt well. I did not play a four or five-setter (yet). We should see this if that happens. Should I have a five-setter on the first round, I don’t know if I could actually bear it. But I haven’t had any five-setter in the first and second round, so it should be good.

“I do not feel any pain. I do not have any problem with my body. I just focus on tennis, and I think I’m 100 percent fit.”

Fully fit and learning to excel on clay. The rest of the field had better watch out.

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