Tennis

What melts Daniil Medvedev in the middle of the match and brings down the waiting prince of tennis will be the stuff of which future Grand Slam reams will be made.

Daniil Medvedev, Australian Open, View Review

Last September in New York, Novak Djokovic buried his face in a white towel and cried. He sat back in his chair, one game away from a straight-set loss in the US Open final, when the cries of support grew into a crescendo around the arena. Songs of Nole! Nole! Nole! filled the air. Djokovic had become so used to being booed and hated in the Flushing Meadows that he was stunned by love. A cathartic sob of release mixed with his sweat on the towel. For years he had waited to embrace love but it never came. Once, according to the New Yorker, he even shouted “suck my d**k” in Serbian at a loveless crowd. And when love arrived that night in New York, he cracked up in surprise. His opponent that day was Daniil Medvedev, who, in a remarkably dark media interaction in Melbourne a few days ago, spoke about his own expectation of love.

Heckled by the Australian crowd throughout the tournament, he finally wavered after the final. “It’s the story of a young man who dreamed of big things in tennis… Now I play for myself, for my family, to provide for my family, for people who trust me, of course. for all Russians because I feel a lot of support there… if there is a hard tournament in Moscow, before Roland Garros or Wimbledon, I will go there even if I miss Wimbledon or Roland Garros or whatever. The child has stopped dreaming. The child is going to play for himself. That’s it.”

Daniil Medvedev and Rafa Nadal with their Australian Open trophies. (Agencies)

It was moving, a little sad even, but do athletes have the right to expect the love of the crowds who show up to watch their match? Can they even expect to dislike, but at least not disrespect and heckle? Above all, when like Medvedev, they constantly lost their rag in the middle – abusing the crowd, the chair umpire, the linesmen, the ballboys (Medvedev once rudely snatched a towel from a ballboy stunned and screamed)?

It’s so easy to get into a moral mess about this and look like a fool, because you don’t know what excites the crowd. Sometimes, as was the case with John McEnroe once he started winning, bad behavior became “character”; it humanized the athletes and made him a crowd favorite. Nicknamed Superbrat, the tournament directors could well have put up a sign outside the stadium: come see John lose his temper. He called referees “assholes”, smashed drink trays, bullied a linesman, called an opponent a “communist bastard”, insulted a black linesman in Germany by shouting, “didn’t know they had German Blacks”…the list is endless but overall the crowd loved it. Only a few like McEnroe have managed to slip into the role of the “lovable thug”; it requires the dark art of charm; not everyone has it.

Daniel Medvedev Daniil Medvedev talks to an ATP coach during a break during his match against Rafael Nadal of Spain in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia , Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Why can’t Medvedev, young, talented with a goofy sense of humor, expect people to like him too? Our lived lives could become a prolonged mourning or an endless tantrum about the lives we weren’t able to live, writes psychoanalyst and author Adam Phillips. In Medvedev’s unlived life, adulation and respect roam. Perhaps his temper tantrums and outbursts in the lived life cast a shadow over the unlived life.

Sometimes he openly mocked the crowds, saying their boos energized him and challenged them to keep going. Obviously, it was just the vulnerable bravado of a young man, as shown in his post-final monologue. Some of the triggers stemmed from mistakes made by others. After all, he was right to get upset about Tsitipas being coached by the father. A feeling of having been wronged sometimes seems to drive him.

At other times, it hasn’t been so simple, even for his coach. “I had this click one day when, at the end of a training session, everything went wrong, it was really crazy on his side as on mine. After a calm discussion, I told him that I thought this work was necessary,” coach Gilles Cervara told tennismajors.com(TM).

Medvedev and Cervara sought out French sports psychologist and top coach Francisca Dauzet. “He has monstrous mental potential, which is to say a rare ability to explore his thoughts,” she told TM.

Getting thoughts to where they need to go was Medvedev’s attempt. He knows his demons. But as it is with these unseen forces, it is difficult to always pin them down. “For a tennis player, there is of course the issue of a tournament and a ranking. But there is also the deep unconscious issue: what does this achievement represent in my history, in relation to my family, my country, my public image? Am I entitled to get it? Would success be a risk for me? It’s an intricate patchwork,” Francisca said.

The inner demons may have entered the world of GIFs and memes, but there’s a remarkable sense of relaxation about him on the ground. Roger Federer has the grace and lightness of foot to slow things down even for the viewer, but Medvedev’s is almost carefree – – and that, for some strange reason, is appealing and addictive to watch.

Almost everything about Medvedev’s game is quite far from existing models. Watch the way it serves. No real arching of the back or bending of the knee, no attempt to turn the upper body into a catapult, the slack wrist does the job of breaking the ball. On the return from serve, he clings deeply, loosely, as if he’s about to argue with the ballboys. Even the way he throws the ball for the serve. Most players touch the ball with the racquet, at least get close to it, before they separate and the hand throws the ball. Not Medvedev. Two rebounds on the ground, and she goes up, casually thrown.

He is quirky in his creativity. A few side exchanges behind the baseline are enough before he tries to figure out how to finish the point quickly. Sometimes with cushioning it has a mix of it. It would be the two consecutive missed bunts in the third set at a vital point that would bring Rafael Nadal back into the league game in Melbourne. Sometimes it’s the slice or the lob. If he finds the returner hanging too deep, he’ll pull that slice of gobsmacking serve to the advertising court on the forehand. Youtube has a replay of the slice served to Taro Daniel at the 2018 Salem Open, which is worth watching. Taro looks well placed for the sliced ​​serve, standing wider than usual, but the obtuse angle of the ball leaves him no chance but just to gape at his teeing ground. His forehands skim flat and low; its setbacks too. He ushered in the era of flat hitters.

“He’s like a chess master,” McEnroe told the NYTimes. “He just plays a bit old school. He strategizes, he thinks about the future. These are the types of guys we need.

But it looks like the crowds at large, almost everywhere, seem irritated by his conduct on the pitch. Not when he comes up against the big favourites, but even in the early rounds. Only they will know for sure, but at least he seems to think they want him to lose.

Even at the age of 10, Medvedev was like that on the court. His childhood friend Andrey Rublev, the world number 7, recounted some of their matches when they were children. Medvedev was probably 9-10 then.

“One of us is rolling on the court and the other is yelling, ‘everything is terrible’. And that was 3-4 hours of that. We would come out of it differently. I was throwing rackets, crying, whining. I took clay on the court and ate it!

“Daniel was throwing rackets but without crying or complaining. Instead, he shouted at everything and everyone around him. Including the judges. So he was crazy like that. He could tell the judges what he thought of them. Someone would just walk by and be told to go to hell…” Rublev said.

The temper tantrums continued through her teenage years. “At 14 or 16, I could get upset during a match because I thought they were cheering on a double fault. I would yell at them. will never be a good tennis player. I’m glad I proved them wrong,” Medvedev said.

Nothing has changed much over the years. “I’ve lost a lot of games in my career when I was going crazy. You never know when you lose a game just because you lost it or because you go crazy and lose a bit of concentration. You don’t can never be sure,” he said. “I was sitting after those matches, I was like, ‘I don’t want to lose those matches because I’m going crazy or because I’m losing concentration because of fans, because of the referees.

He just doesn’t know what makes the red mist rise inside him. “I will not say that I am a nice person or a good person. I can only say that I am a really calm person in life. In fact, I have no idea why the demons come out when I play tennis.

Last Sunday, something broke. His inner demon apparently breathed life into the demons of fans, who pursued him. We don’t know how the future will unfold. It will surely not be easy for him to kill his demons; we haven’t seen many athletes doing it. Not Ille “nasty” Nastase, not McEnroe, who had problems even in the senior circuit. Will tennis fans learn to love him and even love him for what he is? Djokovic’s career has shown that it doesn’t have to happen for results to materialize. But Medvedev, young as he is, wants some love; not just trophies. Who could blame him?