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Tennis

Daniil Medvedev Can’t Stand Stefanos Tsitsipas, But He Can Beat Him

Russia's Daniil Medvedev reacts as he plays against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas during their men's singles semi-final match on day twelve of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 19, 2021.
David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Daniil Medvedev stomped Stefanos Tsitsipas in their Australian Open semifinal Friday in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. Tsitsipas never neared the “nirvana” of those two clean sets he played to beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinal. When he spiked his water bottle after losing his serve early in the second, requiring ball kids to come mop up the mess, enlightenment couldn’t have been further.

Midway through the third set, Tsitsipas began to stir awake by breaking Medvedev’s serve for the first time and leveling the set, but that was temporary. Medvedev broke him again at 5-5 with the shot of the tournament, hauling his 6-foot-6 frame corner to corner to lace the passing shot and wiggling his tentacles in celebration. No one that big should be able to play defense that well.

The Greek was just another player unable to get any traction on Medvedev’s wonky, riddling playstyle. In defeat, Tsitsipas said his opponent “has pretty much unlocked everything in the game.” Though he once deemed that style “boring,” Tsitsipas graciously changed up his stance on the Russian: “He tricks you. He plays the game really smart. It’s really interesting to see that.”

Medvedev is a resoundingly complete player who applies pressure on both ends and sees multiple paths to victory. On Friday he did it all, winning 88 percent of points on his first serve and digging deep into every return game. Overall he won 74 percent of his service points and 41 percent of his return points, numbers which more or less guarantee the win.

Medvedev extended his win streak to 20 matches; 12 of those 20 have come against top-10 players. During the streak, he won three titles and beat every top-10 player at least once (besides Roger Federer, who escaped this fate because he hasn’t played in a year). Medvedev also improved to 6-1 in his tetchy rivalry against Tsitsipas, a feud which continued to play out in little details of Friday’s match. Medvedev tattled to the umpire about Tsitsipas’s father “talking way too much”; Tsitsipas took an untimely break after a changeover to swap outfits. Their feud has a rich lineage, which stretches all the way back to the 2018 Miami Open’s toilet beef. Please take any excuse to rewatch it in full. (It’s embed-proof.)

Earlier in that match, Tsitsipas didn’t apologize for a point he won after his ball clipped the net cord. He also took a bathroom break. Those two moments, plus (the half-Russian) Tsitsipas allegedly calling him a “bullshit Russian,” were roiling inside Medvedev when he issued an iconic warning: “Man, you better shut your fuck up, OK?” The abuse continued as Tsitsipas walked off court. “I answered him because he doesn’t know how to fight,” Medvedev said. “He’s a small kid who doesn’t know how to fight.” (I hadn’t noticed it until the writer Tristan Jung brought it to my attention today, but the umpire tries to cool off Medvedev by telling him in French that he is “more intelligent” and “had won,” so he should “stop.”)

When I asked Medvedev about his relationship with Tsitsipas in 2019, he had an analogy handy. “It happens for everybody,” he said. “You’re working in an office probably, you have one guy you hate—ah, probably there is one guy you don’t talk to, so yeah.”