Weekend Winners: Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime pick up trophies in Paris
On the pleasure of seeing Daniil Medvedev weave his artfully strange web again, and hearing Felix Auger-Aliassime show who he is as a person, as well as a player.
November 08, 2020
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“Oh my God, I don’t have my level, I don’t even have one final, I’m playing so bad, blah, blah, blah.”
That’s what Daniil Medvedev said he told his wife before the Rolex Paris Masters began. “I was crying,” Medvedev said, before backtracking a little. “Well, not crying, but complaining.”
It’s true, the bloom seemed to have come off the Russian’s rose somewhat in 2020. After making six straight finals, winning two Masters 1000s, and nearly winning the US Open in 2019, he had taken a step back, or several steps back, this season. Last year Medvedev never seemed to miss; this year he missed. Last year, once he got his teeth into a match, he never let go; this year, his level rose and fell unpredictably. Last year, he looked like he could be the heir to the Big 3; this year he looked mortal again.
In Paris, Medvedev threw the clock back to 2019. After catching a break when Kevin Anderson defaulted at 6-6 in their second-round match, Medvedev found his old, tricky, dogged, deceptive groove again. He beat Alex De Minaur in three sets, and Diego Schwartzman and Milos Raonic in straight sets. In the final, he ran away from Alexander Zverev 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, for his first title of 2020, and eighth of his career.
“I was playing really good this tournament, especially the final,” Medvedev said, “After the first set I could give up, Sascha was serving well, but I raised my level higher and higher, started to put pressure on him and it worked, and his level dropped.”
In turning the match around, Medvedev reminded us of what elevates him, when he “has his level,” over a fellow Next Genner like Zverev. In short, Medvedev can create openings and win points without his first serve. Typically, the serve is the biggest key to a player’s game, but Medvedev began to turn this match around at the same time that his first-serve percentage was dropping—it finished at a mediocre 58 percent. He made up for it by winning 60 percent of his second-serve points, while Zverev won just 35.
In general, Zverev looks to serve big and then sit back and rally. Medvedev, by contrast, looks to build points proactively, to construct the rally in such a way that he can finish it with a forehand. On Sunday, Medvedev spent a large portion of his time up in no-man’s land. From there, he could direct traffic with penetrating ground strokes, surprise drop shots, or the occasional, tentative foray to the net. Medvedev seems largely allergic to coming all the way forward, but the fact that he put himself in an offensive position so consistently is what mattered. It was a pleasure to see Medvedev weave his artfully strange web again, and to hear him at his most gregarious.
After the match, he talked about “crying” to his wife, gave his fantasy-football friends a shoutout during the trophy ceremony, and compared his career title haul to Zverev’s with nerdy specificity. “You’re a year younger than me, but you have 13 and I have eight,” he said.
Hovering over all of this, of course, were the recent abuse accusations made against Zverev (which he has denied). Many fans may have spent this week looking for reasons to feel good about the future of men’s tennis. Medvedev’s peak-level performance was one, but it was what happened just before the singles final that was the most heartening to me.
Felix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz had just finished making a surprise run to the doubles title in their second tournament together. The on-court interviewer in Bercy asked Auger-Aliassime to explain their success. FAA didn’t start by talking about how their games meshed or complimented each other. Instead, he said this: “Hubert is a really nice person, he has a really good heart. He gives everything out there and he has fun and he is always smiling—it’s a joy to play with him.”
It struck me, not for the first time, that as much as we’ve seen FAA play over the last two years, fans haven’t had a chance to hear him nearly enough. I thought the same thing in August, when he beat Andy Murray in a night match at the US Open. FAA’s interview afterward, when he talked about coming to see Murray at the Open as a kid and sitting up high in Ashe Stadium to watch him, was probably the first time millions of people had heard the young Canadian talk. As always, he was poised, thoughtful, and sincere; instead of arrogance, the 20-year-old has a natural gravitas. The more we get to hear Auger-Aliassime speak, and show who he is as a person as well as a player, the better off our sport will be.