As tennis returns at the Western & Southern Open, will Daniil Medvedev shine brighter than ever before?

The World No. 5 made waves beginning with last year’s American hard-court swing, reaching the final of six consecutive tour-level events he played. The Russian won his first two ATP Masters 1000 titles (Cincinnati, Shanghai) and made an incredible run to the US Open championship match, in which he pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets. But after winning his first four matches of 2020 at the ATP Cup, Medvedev’s momentum slowed, losing three of four matches before the ATP Tour was suspended due to COVID-19.

According to former World No. 4 Brad Gilbert, the time off might have been a blessing in disguise.

“Maybe the break will help him regroup because he didn’t look like the same player he was last summer,” Gilbert said. “I think maybe the break will help him because he played a lot of tennis last year. He was one I thought about [who can do well as tennis returns]. He makes a lot of balls, moves well and maybe he had overplayed.

“He’s somebody who definitely wouldn’t surprise me if he won the tournament. It will be a good opportunity to regroup and he had such a great run last summer. He’s definitely someone who I put in the mix as one of the favourites to win it now, definitely.”

Patrick McEnroe, the former doubles World No. 3, believes that while Medvedev’s abilities are clear, it might take time for him to get into a rhythm because of his physical, grinding game style.

“He strikes me as the kind of guy who needs matches and needs to play a lot… Obviously he’s got unbelievable upside, we know that,” McEnroe said. “He reminds me a little bit of Jim Courier where Courier needed to play a lot of matches. He’s got a little more feel for the ball, he’s not quite as physical. That’ll be interesting to see. To me he’s more of a guy who could get upset than a Djokovic or a Thiem early on. If he gets a couple matches in, then look out.”

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In a normal year, Medvedev would be facing the pressure of needing to defend the points he earned last year. The FedEx ATP Rankings traditionally operate on a “Best 18” results basis over 52 weeks, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now covering a period of 22 months (March 2019 – December 2020).

“All of a sudden maybe psychologically he’ll be able to relax more and just go out there and try to win matches,” Gilbert said.

Tennis Radio

Medvedev isn’t looking too far ahead and thinking about lifting titles. He is taking it one match at a time at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, starting with his opening-round match at the Western & Southern Open against Marcos Giron or Mackenzie McDonald.

“I just want to see first where my game is at a tournament level, competitive level in ‘Cincinnati’, because we’re going to almost 100 per cent see some unbelievable results, maybe some really bad games or some really good ones,” Medvedev said. “I don’t know what to expect, because it’s not usual that there are 150 players that didn’t play a match in six months… I’m really curious [what will happen] and I am going to do my best to win as many matches as possible.”

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