Day 4 Preview: Can Medvedev, Rublev Stay On Course?

Daniil Medvedev had just put the finishing touches on Russia’s dominant run to the 2021 ATP Cup title, having defeated Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, 6-4, 6-2. With his teammates roaring courtside, the 24-year-old Muscovite took a bow and swept his hand across his body in a near-Boroquian gesture.

Then came the Volga-wide grin.

As he so often does to his opponents, Medvedev had left us guessing. Where in the world did that come from? It turns out he borrowed it from former Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez, the onetime Bundesliga scoring machine who occasionally applied some flair to his post-goal celebrations.

Medvedev later enlightened us: “He was my favourite player at the time. I really liked it, so I tried to copy it. I don’t think I did well, but it was funny.”

Teammate Andrey Rublev was the first to embrace Medvedev, the other half of a dynamic duo that combined for a spotless 8-0 singles record over the five-day, 12-country showdown.

In truth, there wasn’t much time to celebrate. The Australian Open would kick off the following day and, as luck would have it, both players had landed in the same quarter of the draw. They’ve been facing off against each other since their days as admittedly cantankerous juniors. Now, after teaming up to represent their country, they might be on opposite sides of the net again soon.

“If the level is going to be the same, these guys are going to see each other in the quarter-finals,” asserted Russia’s ATP Cup player-captain, Evgeny Donskoy.

On Day 4 at Melbourne Park, the fourth seed Medvedev will look to extend his 15-match win streak when he faces Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round. It would be an ideal birthday gift for the Russian, who will turn 25 on Thursday. Meanwhile, the seventh seed Rublev, who won more tour-level titles than any other player in 2020, will meet Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro. Will these two stars, as Donskoy suggested, take another step toward an all-Russian quarter-final?

“I wish,” said Rublev.

“If it happens, it’s perfect,” said Medvedev

Two more Russians will be in action on Thursday: No. 19 seed Karen Khachanov vs. Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, and qualifier Roman Safiullin vs. Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie.

The ninth-seeded Berettini and 16th seed Fabio Fognini, who combined to lead Italy to the ATP Cup final, will also be in action on Day 4. Berrettini will take on #NextGenATP Czech Tomas Machac, and Fognini will face a challenge from countryman Salvatore Caruso.

Tennis fans held their breath when Rafael Nadal took the court on Tuesday against Serb Laslo Djere. The Spaniard, chasing a record 21st major singles title, had been experiencing tightness in his lower back, which had kept him from representing his country at the ATP Cup. But there was a collective sigh of relief when Nadal sent the Serb packing in orderly fashion, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Though he was forced to tweak his service motion, he did all he had to do to advance in straight sets. Next up for the 34-year-old on Day 4 is American qualifier Michael Mmoh.

“My back is not perfect,” said Nadal, who’s into the second round of the Australian Open for the 15th time. “Every day I go through, there are probably more chances for it to get better. There is always a chance to improve. That’s why I’m here, fighting to get better, to give myself a chance.”

The atmosphere is sure to be lively for the second-round clash between fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Aussie wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, who’s into the second round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years. Beset by injuries and having fallen to No. 267 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Kokkinakis is relishing the opportunity to compete again at his home Grand Slam.

“It’s going to be exciting,” said Kokkinakis of the matchup with his next opponent, who’s into the second round here for the third straight year. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of the favourites for this tournament. It’s going to be fun. I just can’t wait to get out there. I’m hoping there’s a decent crowd that will get rowdy, have some Greek fans, Aussie fans. Hopefully, it’s pretty loose.”

Also on the Day 4 schedule are: 22nd seed Borna Coric vs. Mackenzie McDonald; Feliciano Lopez vs. 31st seed Lorenzo Sonego; 24th seed Casper Ruud vs. Tommy Paul; and Pablo Cuevas vs. 21st seed Alex de Minaur of Australia.

“He’s a very tough opponent, very solid,” said De Minaur of Cuevas, No. 72 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “He’s going to make me play a lot of balls. It’s another tough match. I’m going to have to try to focus on my side of the court and try to execute. At the end of the day, that’s what we’ve been working on — trying to control the controllables.”

This time last year, De Minaur was in Spain, sidelined by an abdominal tear. It’s never easy to sit out a Grand Slam, but it hurts even more when it’s the only one held in your homeland.

“I had to switch off social media. It was devastating. It was a tough time,” said De Minaur, who’ll turn 22 next week. “All my mates out here in the summer doing what they do best — I didn’t want any part of it.”

In his most recent appearance at the Australian Open, in 2019, he recorded his best tournament performance by reaching the third round (l. to Nadal). Can he match (or better) that result in 2021?

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