Barcelona Open 2019: Against all odds, 'robotic' Daniil Medvedev has turned into a force on clay


It all the time comes as a little bit of a shock when Daniil Medvedev smashes his racquet, or screams in pleasure or frustration, or typically reveals any trait that’s attribute of a human being. His tennis may be so constant, so robotic, that you’re usually lulled into believing he’s truly a machine within the form of a person.

How can a machine really feel pleasure at profitable a match, or irritating at lacking a shot? It’s as spooky as it’s fascinating.

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in motion throughout Monte Carlo Masters earlier this month. Reuters

What’s additionally fascinating is Medvedev’s evolution on the one floor that by no means appeared suited to his sport: clay. Before this 12 months, the Russian had gained a grand whole of two matches on clay in his complete profession, and that appeared completely acceptable. His flat-hitting fashion, coupled along with his lack of ability to hit previous his opponents, urged that he’d all the time want a fast floor to make something out of his unorthodox groundstrokes.

But 2019 has been an eye-opener. Medvedev isn’t just surviving on clay, he’s turning right into a deadly pressure on it.

He reached the Monte Carlo semi-final final week, defeating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic alongside the best way. And this week he’s into the Barcelona last, having bought previous achieved claycourter Kei Nishikori within the semis.

Medvedev’s one-dimensional, seemingly rudimentary sport shouldn’t work on clay, however for some bizarre purpose it does. Is it maybe not as rudimentary because it appears? Or has it simply been a case of going through comparatively low-quality opposition?

A take a look at Medvedev’s record of victims the previous couple of weeks ought to rapidly douse that second line of considering. Apart from Djokovic and Nishikori, he has additionally defeated Joao Sousa, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nicolas Jarry, all of whom know a factor or two about claycourt tennis. Medvedev has simply been higher than many of the subject, and this run isn’t any fluke.

So how is he doing it then? It’s a mixture of a lot of components, every as delicate as the subsequent. For one factor, Medvedev has sneaky good motion on clay. He will get to extra balls than any 6’6” participant rightly ought to, which robotically makes him better-placed to increase the rallies and tire out his opponents.

It is the last word paradox of peak in tennis – longer limbs transfer slower than shorter ones, however in addition they cowl a higher floor space in the identical variety of strides. And Medvedev’s lengthy legs are consuming up huge quantities of clay proper now, making him an awfully pesky opponent to get the ball previous.

The Russian’s peak additionally helps him along with his serve. Sure, it by no means appears like he’s serving from a tree. For probably the most half his serve is simple to learn, as he simply rolls it in or adopts a laughably extensive place (within the deuce court docket). But he also can crank up the tempo on his first supply when he actually must; on a few of the massive factors in opposition to Nishikori on Saturday, his serve velocity was near 140 mph.

Moreover, the acute angles he can generate when serving from that peak will all the time pose issues it doesn’t matter what the floor. A shot that pulls your opponent out of the court docket is a shot that provides you a bonus in any level, wherever on this planet.

Another side of Medvedev’s sport that’s simple to flee appreciation is how he hits so many pictures to the identical spot regardless of utilizing little or no topspin. The most evident goal of hitting with topspin is to take care of consistency; the revolutions imparted on the ball help you hit laborious and deep and nonetheless land it within the court docket. But Medvedev hits constantly deep with out assistance from exaggerated spin, which means that his hand abilities are a notch greater than the rank-and-file gamers.

Watch any match of Medvedev’s carefully, and also you’ll see how he caresses and maneuvers the ball to do his bidding even when he’s on the useless run. His passing pictures are correct and expertly angled, and his protection off the backhand facet is outstanding regardless of by no means threatening to be spectacular.

On clay Medvedev has one other height-related benefit: he’s virtually by no means out of place. His tall body makes it tough to push him too far again with high-bouncing balls; a topspin-heavy shot often finally ends up being proper in his hitting zone. If something, clay truly helps him along with his putting stance because it doesn’t require him to bend low as usually as he has to on different surfaces – thus nullifying probably the most generally exploited tactic in opposition to tall gamers.

All issues thought-about, possibly Medvedev’s success on clay shouldn’t have come as such a shock. He is, in impact, including his personal touches to the template set by his fellow 6’6” kids – Alexander Zverev and Karen Khachanov – and displaying that tall gamers may be harmful not simply with their energy, but additionally with their motion. Fleet-footed giants could be on their option to establishing a stranglehold over the game, as a result of there isn’t any side of the sport that they haven’t bought lined.

But we additionally should ask ourselves the subsequent apparent query: when Medvedev has so many inherent plusses in his sport, why did he falter so usually on clay earlier than 2019?

The reply to it is a lot less complicated: the backhand. We’ve all the time recognized Medvedev has a strong backhand, however we’ve by no means recognized him to take cost of factors with it the best way he’s been doing the final couple of weeks. He is now hitting his backhand down the road extra usually and with nice disguise too, usually wrong-footing his opponents into errors. On event he’s even been working round his forehand to hit a backhand, thus masking maybe the largest weak point in his sport: the shortage of point-ending energy on his forehand.

That weak point will probably come to the fore once more within the last in opposition to Dominic Thiem, who confirmed in his defeat of Rafael Nadal yesterday that he can monitor down absolutely anything. Medvedev tends to battle whereas ending factors, and in opposition to a participant as fast as Thiem that’s sure to harm him.

But that is simply the primary 12 months of Russian’s elevation to the claycourt elite, and it’s okay if he doesn’t sweep every little thing in sight. The proven fact that he’s made deep inroads into the 2 greatest claycourt tournaments of the 12 months up to now is sufficient for now. It is proof of his adaptability to the floor, and presumably an indication of larger issues to come back sooner or later. This 12 months he has ramped up his backhand, possibly subsequent 12 months it will likely be the forehand.

While Medvedev is on this journey of enchancment, possibly we must always be taught to be much less shocked each time he reveals indicators of emotion on the court docket. He is repeatedly evolving in any case, and isn’t evolution the one factor that separates people from machines?

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