A Contrast In Personalities, Rublev And Medvedev Both Share Desire To Win

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev (photo: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Kosmos Tennis)

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

There was something ruthless about the Russian Tennis Federation’s best-of-three semifinal thrashing of Germany in the Davis Cup Finals at Madrid Arena Saturday afternoon.

Both Andrey Rublev, who quietly but effectively got the RTF on the scoreboard quickly with a convincing 49-minute 6-4, 6-0 victory over Dominic Koepfer, and demonstrative Daniil Medvedev, who defeated Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-4, 6-4, to clinch the semifinal tie and earn his team a berth in Sunday’s championship tie against Croatia, showed no mercy. Each played excellent – if not clinical – tennis and neither took their foot off the accelerator against an undermanned German team that was playing without World No. 3 Alexander Zverev in its lineup.

The dead doubles rubber, won 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Germany’s Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz over the RTF’s Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov, was almost a bit of an afterthought. Obligatory but not really necessary.

From the outset, Rublev showed no signs of mental or physical fatigue after losing to 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez of Spain earlier in group play, then going the distance to beat Sweden’s Elias Ymer in three challenging and lengthy sets on Thursday. Against the 54th-ranked Koepfer, Rublev fired 10 aces, won 84 percent (27 of 32) of his first-serve points, hit 11 winners and converted all four of his break-point chances – including all three of the German’s service games in the second set. There was a sense of perfect balance by the 24-year-old Moscow native as he didn’t face any break points on his serve while outpointing Koepfer 54-32 to set the table for Medvedev.

During an on-court interview that followed his stress-free win, the soft-spoken World No. 5 Rublev was asked what the difference was in his game against Koepfer. He said: “I think the main difference today was from beginning to end I was super focused. Game by game, I was trying to raising my level to play better and better. That was the key.”

Rublev was as philosophical as Medvedev was street smart

Later, in his press conference, Rublev, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2014, added: “In other matches I was feeling I’m winning quite easy, I don’t need to do much effort, and in the end, I was completely relaxed. I was giving up to the other guy. Then, I was losing or winning in three sets. The difference today was since the beginning, I was pumped. I was trying more on winning, to play as better as I can, to not give any hope, any chance. In the end, I was able to win quite easy.”

Rublev was as philosophical as Medvedev was plain street smart. What followed against the 51st-ranked Struff was this: Medvedev struck seven aces and excelled with an 83-percent efficiency (29 of 35) in winning points on his first serve. The World No. 2 Medvedev hit 12 winners against just eight unforced errors and saved the only break point he faced. He outpointed his German opponent 59-45, and it was full steam ahead after he broke to go ahead 3-2 in the second set. Although Struff hit 12 winners and won 17 points at the net – at times playing solidly – he also made 19 unforced errors. Like Rublev, Medvedev produced an excellent performance during his service games. The reigning US Open champion has not dropped any sets during the Davis Cup Finals fortnight.

Afterward, Medvedev didn’t do anything to endure himself to the Spanish crowd, which could be heard booing and heckling him throughout his on-court interview. Keep in mind, the RTF had already taken out home country favorite Spain earlier in the Davis Cup tournament – and, as if to remind the fans, Medvedev stomped his foot, again and again, into the hard-court surface – mimicking Cristiano Ronaldo’s “calma” celebration – to drive home his point after he secured match point.

“I’m really happy for our team to be in the final,” said a smiling Medvedev, combining a mixture of wit with sarcasm to provoke the Spanish audience. “It’s been an amazing two weeks so far for us. Beating Spain in Madrid was our highlight for all of us. It was a really nice feeling and I’m happy about it.”

Asked to assess his squad’s upcoming championship tie against Croatia, Medvedev said it wouldn’t be an easy task to win. Both the Russians and Croatia are looking to win their third Davis Cup title. “They definitely have the best doubles in the world,” he admitted, paying respect to Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, the World No. 1 doubles pair from Croatia. “So, we need to close it out in singles – even though we believe in our guys in doubles. It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun.”

Then, as the booing and whistling continued, perhaps provoked just a bit by Medvedev, the Russian dug in a little deeper and quipped: “It started in 2019, but I’m not going to be tired to say it: People still don’t understand how to make me lose; they should support me. So, it’s okay, continue. I’m going to just win.”

RTF looking to win first Davis Cup since 2006

Now, after knocking out Germany following their earlier 2-0 triumph over Sweden in the quarterfinal round, the Russian team (officially called the RTF amid an ongoing doping suspension in international sport) are into their sixth Davis Cup final. On paper, they will be favored. The last time the Russians lifted the Davis Cup was in 2006 and the last time they played in the final was 2007.

Croatia is expected to line up with the surprising 279th-ranked Borna Gojo against Rublev and No. 30 Marin Cilic will face Medvedev in singles. The Russian’s top doubles tandem has been Karatsev and Rublev, who will be the underdog against Mektic and Pavic if the tie is hanging in the balance after singles.

As Medvedev proved Saturday, he’s not in Madrid to make friends, just win tennis matches – something he’s been pretty good at doing both during the regular ATP season as well as during the Davis Cup fortnight. He’s a combined 60-13 for 2021.

The bottom line: Don’t bet against a Russian bear when he’s angry.

Germany tried its best, but Russians were “just too good”

Germany, which reached the Davis Cup semifinal round for the first time since 2007, finished with a comeback win in doubles by Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz, both doubles specialists. They defeated the Russian Tennis Federation’s Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov, both highly successful, Top-30-ranked singles players, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to finish undefeated (4-0) in Davis Cup. Unfortunately, for the Germans, it was too little too late.

“For us, it was actually the first match playing with spectators,” said Puetz, who thanked the Madrid Arena crowd for cheering for them and gave away his tennis racquet to a young Spanish fan sitting court side afterwards.

“We were in Innsbruck; we didn’t have anybody there. This is a lot nicer. Thanks for hanging around for the doubles; sorry the singles went so quick. We tried our best, but they were just too good.”

Added Krawietz: “To play Davis Cup for Germany is very special. We hung together all the time, each match, each point all the time. To make it to the semifinals, we can be proud of us, proud of the team. It’s the best two weeks of the year for me. I enjoyed the team very much and I’m thankful.”