Daniil Does It! Medvedev Wins First Title
If the youngest ATP World Tour final since Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic at the 2007 BNP Paribas Open was a sign of things to come, then the futures for both Daniil Medvedev and Alex de Minaur are plenty bright.
But after a two-hour, 13-minute battle at the Sydney International on Saturday, it was Medvedev who earned his first ATP World Tour title, fending off a gutsy comeback by the home favourite with a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 triumph just about a year after appearing in his first final at 2017 Chennai (l. to Bautista Agut).
"It's amazing," Medvedev said. "I'm really happy. I mean, to make it through the qualies, there were so many circumstances. I wanted to go to Auckland, because my girlfriend had a visa to New Zealand, and not even one guy withdrew from Auckland... now I won here. So [it's] just amazing."
For a moment, it seemed the victory was in serious jeopardy of slipping the World No. 84's grasp.
The Ken Rosewall Arena crowd was on its feet, roaring in support of the 18-year-old Australian. Former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt was out of his seat, pumping his fist to encourage his mentee, who has been compared to Hewitt himself for his competitive edge and grittiness.
Suddenly, a 4-0 Medvedev lead in the final set was wiped away. De Minaur saved one match point while serving at 3-5, 30/40 with a forehand volley. And the 'Blue Wall' — the teenager, who has been signing television cameras with the nickname, has credited it to the New South Wales State of Origin rugby team, which is known by the same name for its fearsome defence — seemed to be swallowing everything the Russian threw at him with incredible defence of his own. Medvedev served for the match at 5-4, but de Minaur broke to 15 to level affairs.
De Minaur kept telling himself the same message to help work his way back into the match.
"Just keep digging, leave it all out there, find a way to just make it competitive," De Minaur remembered after the final. "I didn't want to just not leave it all out there, especially for everyone who stayed out there. I wanted to just compete until the last point, and I thought that's what I did. I left it all out there on court."
De Minaur, the youngest finalist on the ATP World Tour since Taylor Fritz at 2016 Memphis, appeared he would use the massive wave of momentum to become the youngest champion since Kei Nishikori at 2008 Delray Beach. But the comeback came to an abrupt halt.
While the World No. 167 did overcome a 0/40 deficit serving at 5-5, he could not save a fourth break point. And although de Minaur displayed the gutsy defence that got him back into the match, he netted a forehand to give Medvedev another chance to serve for the match, an opportunity the Russian would not waste again. The 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier came up with clutch serves, closing out the battle to love when de Minaur put a low slice backhand into the net.
Medvedev somehow found a way to overcome an in-form opponent and the tremendous crowd that was firmly in the Australian's corner.
"It's very tough, of course, but the only thing, I think it [the crowd] works for everyone. If the crowd goes really crazy, sometimes it can turn you on, also. Even if it's against you, you don't feel it that it's against them. Just hear them, so it can turn you on, also," Medvedev said. "I'm sure he wouldn't make the comeback in the third set without the crowd. It was tough, but I'm really happy to manage this."
Medvedev joins Karen Khachanov (2016 Chengdu) and Andrey Rublev (2017 Umag) as the third active Russian who is under the age of 22 to win an ATP World Tour title. It was a strong bounce-back week for the 21-year-old after losing in the first round of the City of Playford Tennis International, an ATP Challenger Tour event, in the season's opening week.
The Russian is the fourth qualifier to raise the trophy in Sydney since 2003, and he claims 250 ATP Rankings points as well as $83,650 for his efforts. De Minaur earns 150 points and $44,055 for making his first ATP World Tour final.
It has been a dream start to the season for de Minaur, who began the year at No. 208 in the ATP Rankings. The teenager, who is projected to soar to No. 127 on Monday, orchestrated one fairytale run last week at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp when he advanced to his first ATP World Tour semi-final as a wild card before losing to Ryan Harrison. And this week, he battled his way to his first championship match, becoming the youngest finalist in Sydney since Hewitt in 2000 (d. Stoltenberg).
The final between Medvedev (21) and de Minaur (18) was the youngest battle for the title in Sydney since a 21-year-old Aaron Krickstein defeated Andrei Cherkasov to win in 1989. If the Australian, who was the lowest-ranked Sydney finalist since Cherkasov (No. 223), also in 1989, finished off the comeback, he would have been the lowest-ranked champion at the event since the ATP Rankings began in 1973.