Medvedev Overcomes Heat, Reaches Olympic Quarterfinals

Daniil Medvedev (photo: @ITFTennis/Twitter)

TOKYO/WASHINGTON, July 28, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev endured both the Tokyo heat and humidity – and a feisty opponent in Italy’s Fabio Fognini – to reach the quarterfinal round of the Olympic Tennis Event on Wednesday.

The second seed Medvedev, representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), beat the No. 15 seed Fognini, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, in two hours and 26 minutes to set up a quarterfinal match against No.  6 seed Pablo Carreño Busta. The Spaniard advanced over No. 59 Dominik Koepfer of Germany, 7-6 (7), 6-3.

Medvedev was visited by a physio in each set for a variety of maladies, including to his ab, left arm and thigh. However, the 25-year-old Medvedev brushed aside questions about his health. “The last one was cramping, so 30 minutes after the match it’s okay,” he said. “The first one I had a blocked diaphragm. It’s the same thing. The next day it’s a new story and it doesn’t affect things.

“Of course I’m going to work with the physio on these issues to feel ever better tomorrow. … I’m going to do my best to be 100 percent.”

Medvedev hit nine aces and eight winners, won 70 percent (30 of 43) of his first-serve points that overcame 40 unforced errors, and saved seven of eight break points. Meanwhile, Fognini hit 12 winners but committed 44 unforced errors. Medvedev outpointed Fognini 92-78.

“A lot of chances, a lot of opportunities, yes, but this is sport,” said Fognini, who was visibly frustrated after earning a time violation just three games into the match and later smashed a racquet.

A victory over Carreño Busta tomorrow would guarantee Medvedev a chance to play for a medal in his Olympic debut.

Also advancing to Thursday’s quarterfinal round:

• World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic, who continued his quest for a Golden Grand Slam after eliminating No. 16 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 6-3, 6-1. It sets up a final eight matchup against Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, 7-6 (7), 6-0.

• No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany hit 11 aces and advanced to face unseeded Jeremy Chardy of France after beating Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-4, 7-6 (5). The No. 68 Chardy ended the dream run of Great Britain’s Liam Broady, ranked 143rd, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-1.

• No. 12 seed Karen Khachanov of the ROC hit 12 aces and beat No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1. Next, he will face No. 14 seed Ugo Humbert of France, who upset No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in back of hitting 22 winners.

Svitolina leads women’s semifinalists

World No. 6 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, seeded fourth, is the highest seed to reach the women’s semifinals and remains very much alive in the chase to win a medal, which would be Ukraine’s first in Olympic tennis.

In a week that has featured plenty of upsets in the women’s draw, including the ousting of the top three seeds – No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, No. 2 Naomi Osaka of Japan and No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus – Svitolina has avoided the pitfalls that have knocked out the others. Although she’s spent 10 hours on court at Ariake Park battling through often-sweltering conditions, Svitolina has strung together four consecutive wins. The latest came Wednesday against No. 61 Camila Giorgi of Italy, whom she beat 6-4, 6-4 and outpointed 63-54.

“For sure, it’s exciting, but I have to not think too much about that,” said Svitolina, who was a quarterfinalist at Rio in 2016. “My goal is to focus on myself, my game and my recovery and be ready for tomorrow.”

Svitolina will face the Czech Repubic’s Marketa Vondrousova, who advanced by retirement over Paula Badosa of Spain. The 29th-ranked Spaniard was overcome by heat illness following a lengthy medical time out that followed after No. 42 Vondrousova won the first set 6-3. Badosa left the court in a wheelchair and later withdrew from the mixed doubles draw, where she was to have played with Pablo Carreño Busta.

“I think she was exhausted,” Vondrousova said. “It’s sad the way it ended. For me, it’s going that I have some rest now. But it’s sad to see her like this.”

The other semifinal will pair No. 9 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland against No. 15 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan.

Bencic advanced over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of the ROC, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, which improved Switzerland’s opportunity of winning an Olympic tennis medal at a fourth consecutive Games.

With the Extreme Weather Policy in effect for the Bencic-Pavlyuchenkova match, it allowed for a 10-minute break between the second and third sets, which enabled Bencic to regroup and “just try to make [Anastasia’s] life as difficult as possible.” Bencic went on to win the two-hour and 13-minute match.

“I think my reaction was just the relief in the moment for the match,” said Bencic, who also advanced to the doubles semifinals with Viktorija Golubic with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ellen Perez and Samantha Stosur of Australia. “It was really stressful, I felt. With [Pavlyuchenkova], you never really know what’s going to happen.”

Meanwhile, Rybakina defeated No. 7 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 7-5, 6-1, in 93 minutes, saving the only break-point she faced on her serve.

“My serve is a weapon,” said Rybakina, who finished with four aces and hit 25 winners, and outpointed Muguruza 70-48. “Today I served really well. Actually, overall I played well – I didn’t have as many mistake as I’ve had before. I was really focused today and played good.”

ITF announces change in schedule to combat heat and humidity

On Wednesday, the ITF “in the interests of player health and welfare and following extensive consultation,” announced a chance of schedule to the increasing heat and humidty that is being experienced this week in Tokyo. Starting Thursday, matches will start at 3 p.m. Japan Standard Time (8 a.m. Central European, 7 a.m. London, 2 a.m. New York) instead of 11 a.m.

“The decision to start matches at 3 p.m. JST from Thursday is possible due to the outcomes of today’s matches across the five competitions being staged and the size of the player field, and is designed to further safeguard player health,” the ITF said in a statement. “It has been made following consultation with the IOC, Tokyo 2020, Olympic Broadcast Serices as well as the Olympic Tennis event players, referee, medical experts and other key stakeholders.”

Asked about the decision to change the starting time, Djokovic told the Olympic Channel, “That’s great. I’m pleased because I was not the only one who was vocal about it. Different endurance sports are played at night because of the brutal conditions with heat and humidity. Tennis has to be, in a way, treated as an endurance sport. Playing singles, doubles, mixed – and doubling up every day – is quite an effort. I’m really glad they made it come true.”

Mixed doubles features mixture of specialists and singles stars

The 16-team mixed doubles event began Wednesday with eight first-round matches. Top seeds Nicolas Mahut and Kristina Mladenovic of France were promptly upset by Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina of the ROC, 6-4, 6-2.

Among the well-known competitors in the draw are Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who is teamed with Nina Stojanovic. The Serbians advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Marcelo Melo and Luisa Stefani of Brazil. Also, Iga Swiatek of Poland is partnered with Lukasz Kubot; Ashleigh Barty of Australia is playing with John Peers; and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, has formed a super team with Maria Sakkari.

“The feeling is incredible,” Stojanovic said during an interview with the Olympic Channel after she and Djokovic advanced to the quarterfinals against Kevin Krawietz and Laura Siegemund of Germany, who beat Rajeev Ram and Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States, 6-4, 5-7, 10-8.

“I never even got the chance to practice with him because we were never home at the same time,” Stojanovic added. “This is a special occasion, the Olympics. I feel awesome. I’m so happy we are through [to the next round]. It felt amazing. I didn’t have as much pressure as I thought I would have. I tried not to think about and it and just played my game.”

Tuesday’s Olympic tennis results

Wednesday’s Olympic tennis order of play

Around Ariake Park

By the numbers

With Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina through to the women’s singles semifinals, it means that at least one first-time Olympian will leave Tokyo with a medal. Meanwhile, any medal for Ukraine or Kazakhstan would be their first in tennis.

“Quotable …”

“It’s so much pressure, I cannot imagine. I know how it is to be under pressure, it’s tough. Naomi, she is the greatest just now, the greatest in the game, and she’s also the face of the Olympics. It was tough for her, I think, to play like this.

“But I think she didn’t play a bad match – she was fighting all match, staying calm, and she was fighting until the very end.”

Marketa Vondrousova after defeating World No. 2 and second seed Naomi Osaka on Tuesday afternoon.

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