Daniil Medvedev is no crowd favourite in New York, but he has flourished amidst the booing. (Reuters/USA TODAY Sports: Robert Deutsch)
Daniil Medvedev had just wrapped up a four-set win over Stan Wawrinka at the US Open, and was finishing up his post-match on-court interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi.
The interviewer asked him if he had anything to say to the crowd.
As cheers and boos resounded around Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev leaned into the microphone with a wry smile and replied:
“I have to say, sorry guys [for my success] — and thank you.”
The 23-year-old Russian is now two matches away from winning at the US Open after beating the three-time major winner Wawrinka 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
If he does, he will have the crowd at least partly to thank for his success, as the controversial Muscovite is riding a wave of boos toward potential glory.
Against Wawrinka, the partisan crowd at Flushing Meadows were quite open in their hostility to Medvedev for most of the match.
They started early, hooting him as he was introduced on-court before the match, and then loudly cheering every point won by the Swiss player and booing the Russian.
WTA Tea tweet: Here’s Medvedev flipping off the crowd on the opposite side of the ump like a child. The ump sees it on the replay but doesn’t give a violation.
His feud with the crowd started in the third round against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez on Louis Armstrong Court, where his angry snatch of a towel from a ball boy, a subsequent throwing of his racquet when given a code violation, and displaying his middle finger at a change of ends got the New Yorkers well and truly offside.
By the end of that match, he raised his arms in the air to greet the boos raining down, then doubled down with a post-match interview message to fans.
“The only thing I can say, the energy you’re giving me right now, guys, I think it will be enough for my next five matches,” he said.
“The more you do this, the more I will win, for you guys.”
Things continued to deteriorate in his fourth-round win over German Dominik Koepler, where Medvedev danced a little jig on-court in celebration.
ESPN tweet: Daniil Medvedev hasgone full villain After advancing at the US Open, Medvedev openly basked in boos from the New York crowd.
Towards the end of the game against Wawrinka, the boos were less noticeable — perhaps because he had silenced the crowd with his play.
Asked in the post-match interview to describe his relationship with the crowd, he replied that he had only two words to use.
“The first is electric, and [the second is] controversy, because what I’ve done is not good,” he said.
“So many people support me, but still so many people don’t like me. I can just say, I try to be myself.”
Russian’s game is ugly, but effective
Medvedev’s ungainly style is getting the job done at the US Open. (Reuters/USA TODAY Sports: Robert Deutsch)
Nearly two metres tall, Medvedev is surprisingly mobile for a big man.
Unlike other players his size, he doesn’t rely on a huge serve and has multiple plans of attack for matches.
He started off against Wawrinka playing his more usual game of counter-punching from the back of the court, but in the first set things changed after he pulled a quadricep muscle.
With the crowd sensing he was in trouble, Medvedev switched up his approach, coming in to the net more to shorten points and playing a range of shots to keep Wawrinka off balance.
Things threatened to get away from him if he lost the first set, but a tie-break victory gave him a boost, and the Russian went on to take the second relatively comfortably.
Wawrinka hit back with the third set to stay in the match, but two breaks in the first five games of the fourth made the result all but certain.
Medvedev lost the third set before beating Wawrinka to reach the last four. (AP: Sarah Stier)
US Open tennis tweet: The moment has arrived! Daniil Medvedev becomes the first Russian man to reach a Grand Slam SF since 2010.
Medvedev’s game is flourishing on the American hardcourt swing — the leadup events before the US Open and the major itself.
His record on North American soil is now 19-2, with runner-up finishes in Washington and Montreal, before his win over Novak Djokovic on the way to the Cincinnati Masters title.
Prior to this fortnight, his best result at the majors was a fourth round showing at this year’s Australian Open.
The narrative at the US Open, and more widely over this year, has been the inability of the talented next generation to show they are capable of beating the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The likes of Greece’s Stephanos Tsitsipas, Germany’s Alexander Zverev, fellow Russian Andrey Rublev — the conqueror of Australia’s Nick Kyrgios at Flushing Meadows — and Canadian Denis Shapovalov are carrying the banner for those who want to replace the giants of the game.
WTA Tea tweet: If Medvedev wins this match, he would become the new OTHER world number 1 aka #4 but the top player outside of the Big 3
But Medvedev is the leading remaining member of the group — not counting Grigor Dimitrov and Diego Schwartzman, who are already 28 and 27 respectively — in New York. His advance to the semi-final should raise his ranking to number four in the world.
But aside from his injury concerns, the Russian’s biggest challenge will be who he faces next — Federer.
Despite dropping sets to Sumit Nagal and Bosnia and Damir Dzumhur, the 38-year-old Federer will provide a stern test with a crowd expected to be in the Swiss superstar’s corner.
If he gets through to the final, a likely matchup with Rafael Nadal awaits.
Regardless of who Medvedev might play, he won’t have much support in the stands.
And despite his protests, that might be just the way he likes it.