In First Match Since Clinching No. 1, Medvedev Reaches Acapulco Semifinals

Daniil Medvedev (photo: ATP Tour video)

ACAPULCO/WASHINGTON, February 25, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With the pressure off of top seed Daniil Medvedev in his chase for the World No. 1 ranking, the 26-year-old Russian took on 103rd-ranked qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan for the first time in the main draw of an ATP Tour tournament with a semifinal berth at stake in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC. In a calm and relaxed manner, Medvedev easily beat the Japanese lefty, 6-2, 6-3, in just 70 minutes Thursday evening.

Following the defeat of current No. 1 Novak Djokovic earlier in the day in Dubai to Czech lefty Jiri Vesely, it didn’t matter what happened to Medvedev for the rest of week in the ATP 500 outdoor hard court tournament in Acapulco because he was guaranteed to reach the No. 1 spot next week.

Medvedev will become the first player outside of the Big Four – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic – to reach No. 1 since Andy Roddick in 2004.

“Yeah, it’s not easy, actually, to play a match when you get this [news] during the day,” Medvedvev said during a post-match TV interview.

“Actually, to be honest, Novak’s match, I saw that he was losing, but I didn’t know that if he loses I’m gonna become No. 1. I thought I have to do something big here. So, then, when I was receiving all the messages, I understood, okay, it’s gonna happen.”

In his only previous meeting against Nishioka, in the second round of qualifying at the 2018 Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, Medvedev won in three sets. He was ranked 56th and Nishioka was 184th. What a difference a few years has made for the Moscow native.

Medvedev broke Nishioka’s serve three times during the half-hour first set. Despite losing his own serve once, he fired seven aces and won 80 percent (12 of 15) of his first-serve points and hit 14 winners while making just seven unforced errors. By comparison, Nishioka struggled with his serve and won just 31 percent (four of 13) of his first-serve points.

However, Medvedev struggled at the start of the second set and was broken twice in his first two service games before breaking Nishioka in the sixth and eighth games. He served out the victory and won on his second match point opportunity with his 12th ace. Medvedev won the final five games of the match through a combination of power and deft touch. He finished with 26 winners to 16 unforced errors.

The victory improved Medvedev’s season win-loss record to 12-2 in his final tournament as World No. 2 before he ascends to No. 1 on Monday. When combined with his 23-3 end to the 2021 season, which began with his US Open triumph, Medvedev has now won 35 of his last 40 matches. This week, he’s lost just 15 games spread over three matches.

“The first goal was to still win today, because I’m here to try to win every match I play. But it’s definitely some great news,” Medvedev said.

Nadal extends winning streak to 13 straight

Medvedev’s next opponent will be none other than No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal. The World No. 5 from Spain defeated No. 39 Tommy Paul of the United States, 6-0, 7-6 (5), in two hours and three minutes in their first meeting. The victory extended Nadal’s winning streak to 13 after having won back-to-back titles in Melbourne at the Melbourne Summer Set and the Australian Open, which was his 21st Grand Slam title. He hit 20 winners to 13 unforced errors, converted six of 14 break-point chances and outpointed Paul 82-61.

Nadal, a three-time Acapulco champion with a 23-2 win-loss record, has never lost in the quarterfinal or semifinal rounds (9-0).

After breezing to a first-set bagel, the second set lasted an hour and 36 minutes and it took three match points before Nadal secured victory and a berth in the semifinals against Medvedev in a rematch of their memorable Australian Open final from last month. He fell behind 0-2 in the tie-break, then won four straight points and never trailed again.

“I think I played one of the best sets since a long time ago,” Nadal said afterward. “I played fantastic in the first set. In the beginning of the second I made a couple of mistakes, and then he started playing better and better. The set became a little bit crazy with a lot of breaks.”

Tsitsipas reaches second consecutive Acapulco semifinal

Meanwhile, in the other half of the draw, a first-time main draw meeting took place between No. 3 seed and last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece against No. 59 Marcos Giron of the United States, who came in 6-2 in his last three tournaments since starting the season 0-3 in Australia. Tsitsipas came out the winner over Giron, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 17 minutes. The Greek star hit 33 winners and saved four of four break points. He outpointed his opponent 60-47.

The World No. 4 Tsitsipas came in 13-4 while trying to reach the Acapulco semifinals for the second straight year and his third semifinal of the young season.

“I was trying to open the court, trying to come in on the short balls,” Tsitsipas said after his win. “It was very good overall. I was able to come to the net and close a few at the net. It did help me a lot to to generate even more confidence, game after game. It paid off pretty well.”

Norrie wins 10 straight games to reach semifinal

Next, Tsitsipas will face No. 6 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who breezed past 95th-ranked lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 6-1, 6-0, winning 10 straight games to close out the victory. Four days ago, Norrie won the Delray Beach Open for his third career ATP Tour singles title. He was appearing in his third Acapulco quarterfinal in the past four years and was a 2019 semifinalist.

“I used the court to my advantage,” said Norrie, who is into his second straight semifinal berth. “Very slow, very bouncy conditions. I just made it physical points and made him play one more ball.

“Even though the score was easy, it was definitely not easy. I sweat through like five shirts, and it was definitely a very physical match. I really enjoyed it.”

Zverev fined $40K, loses Acapulco prize money

Alexander Zverev was fined $40,000 by the ATP Tour and will forfeit more than $30,000 in prize money and all rankings points earned this week in Acapulco after hitting chair umpire’s stand with his racquet following a doubles loss on Tuesday night.

In addition to the monetary penalties, the ATP Tour said Thursday it would undertake “a further review of the incident.”

The World No. 3 Zverev, who was the defending Acapulco singles champion, was withdrawn from the tournament after he yelled and cursed at chair umpire Alessandro Germani and violently struck the umpire’s chair at least four times after he and doubles partner Marcelo Melo of Brazil were defeated by Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland.

Thursday’s Acapulco results 

Friday’s Acapulco order of play

By the numbers

On Monday, Daniil Medvedev will become just the third Russian to reach No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Marat Safin (2000-01). The 26-year-old from Moscow will also join Andy Murray (2016) as the only first-time World No. 1 since Novak Djokovic first reached the top spot in July 2011.

“Quotable …”

• “It’s always special to play him, kind of a chance to get my revenge. You have to learn from the best, which is him, Roger, Novak, Andy – always when they were losing a tough fight, they were trying to get their revenge. Sometimes, they managed to win, sometimes not. So, that’s what I hope to do if I’m gonna play Rafa.”

– Top seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, speaking after his quarterfinal victory on the possibility of playing 21-time major title winner Rafael Nadal in the semifinal round.

• “Everybody knows how difficult it is to play against Daniil. I know I have to play at my highest level if I want to have any chance, and that’s what I’m going to try. I have to play my game.

“Everybody knows how difficult the final was in Australia. Tomorrow is going to be another battle. I know he’s playing well, plenty of confidence. … I am excited to play that match.”

– No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain, speaking after his quarterfinal victory on facing Daniil Medvedev in Friday’s semifinals.