BENGALURU: The disbelief that sparked Daniil Medvedev‘s countenance on Saturday night was a contrast to the dazed look of 12 months ago, when the Russian led Rafael Nadal down the home straight, having kicked-up a 5-1 lead, even holding match point. Somehow, he fell short. This time, Nadal was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. Medvedev broke and didn’t look back.
It wasn’t about the 24-year-old returning a compliment, it was about making a statement. Finally, a case for consistency. This one for his generation.
The muscular Mallorcan has won 71 matches in a row after winning the opening set. In the last-four stage of the Nitto ATP Finals, he was broken at love when serving for the match. In the last 70-minutes of play, Medvedev turned the match on its head, running away with the final four games to score a 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 win.
Nadal, who appeared a tad slow, making defensive choices with shot selection, relying heavily on his slices, applauded the victor. The Spaniard, who clinched a record 13th Roland Garros title in October, said the reverse was a combination of some good tennis by his opponent and poor play by him.
“I played a bad (tenth) game. You are nervous to win the match. Is normal to have tension. I think he played some good points and I made a couple of mistakes,” Nadal said. “Then he played a good tie-break. I should’ve held my serve in the third set. I had an easy volley to close the game.”
The world No.2, owner of a record-equaling 20 major titles, who has never won the ATP’s season finale, added, “Small details make a big difference. I had my chances. I was close to playing another final here. I was not good enough at the moment to close the match. Well done for him and not enough good for me.”
It was that very incisive combination that took Dominic Thiem to victory against Novak Djokovic in the first of the semifinal clashes — 7-5, 6-7 (10-12), 7-6 (7-5). The world No.1 led 4-0 in the deciding tie-break but Thiem won seven of the next eight points to make the title round.
Like Medvedev, who had beaten Djokovic in the league stage of the competition and followed it up with the win over Nadal in the knock-out round, Thiem had beaten the Spaniard in the league phase before topping the Serbian on Saturday evening.
Djokovic said, “What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was unreal. I don’t think I played bad. Actually, I made all of my first serves. He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners. What can you do? I was in the driver’s position at 4-Love. I thought I was very close to winning it. He just took it away from me.”
Djokovic underlined, “I didn’t play bad any point after 4-Love. I hit the ball, I was not pushing it. He deserved it, he just went for it and everything worked.”
A year ago, the 24-year-old Medvedev went 0-3 in round-robin play at the ATP Finals, while Thiem, 27, finished runner-up to Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.
It might be a tad premature to call it the change of guard even if it is the year in which one among the next generation of players — namely Thiem — nailed a Grand Slam title. But with the Austrian and Alexander Zverev playing the final of the US Open and then again here Thiem playing Medvedev in the title round, they are finally showing the consistency tennis’ terrific trio — Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic — have made a creed of.