Playing in front of a crowd of fans in New York City can have a tremendous effect on an athlete—both good and bad.
Russia's Daniil Medvedev, the reigning Cincinnati champion and fifth-seed at the US Open, has embraced the intensity of those fans this fortnight, even if the crowd hasn't embraced him.
He has fueled off of their energy, and he now finds himself into the quarterfinals after coming back from a set down to beat Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(2).
“During my match I was completely focused. After the match, I engaged a little bit with the crowd. But we all know how New York crowd can be. It’s probably the most electric crowd in the world, I think,” said Medvedev. “Especially, I mean, playing this week on big courts, I could feel it. Today I was just engaging with the crowd and hopefully--hopefully it was fun for them and for me. As I said, it gave me a lot of energy to win.”
The tumultuous relationship began on Friday night as Medvedev took on veteran Spaniard and fan-favorite Feliciano Lopez. It was an eventful night for Medvedev, who heard the boos, snatched a towel from a ball boy and gave the bird to the boisterous fans, which only egged them on even further.
He would go on to win 7-6(1), 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, and as he prepared to do his on-court interview after the match, the boos continued to fall down on him and he reveled in it.
“I want all of you to know, when you sleep tonight, I won because of you,” he told Louis Armstrong Stadium. “The energy you;ve given me right now, guys, I think it will be enough for my five next matches. The more you do this, the more I will win for you guys. Thank you.”
Both he and the fans would honor that agreement on Sunday night as his opponent, Koepfer, who plays at a high-intensity and with plenty of emotion, had the support of the crowd. After falling behind a set and a break, it looked as if Medvedev was running out of gas, but he soaked up the energy of the crowd to refuel and win the final three sets.
Medvedev 2, US Open crowd 0 pic.twitter.com/mKNngZFik5
— Charles Jabaley (@Charles_Jabaley) September 2, 2019
“I was painful in my abductor before the match. I thought I’m not going to play,” said Medvedev. “I was painful in my shoulder. I took as much painkillers as I could. And you guys, being against me, you gave me so much energy to win. Thank you.”
The 23-year-old has the game to back up his so-called trolling of the crowd. At 6’6’’ and an enormous wingspan, Medvedev possess a powerful forehand and tremendous ability to chase down balls. He came into the US Open as one of the favorites, outside of the Big 3, after his dominating play during the hard-court swing that precedes the year’s final Grand Slam.
He reached the finals at both the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. and the Rogers Cup in Montreal, before capturing the title at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, beating Andrey Rublev, Novak Djokovic and David Goffin, three of the final 16 here at the US Open, in his final three matches there.
That run instilled the confidence and, for lack of a better term, swagger that he has carried with him to New York City.
“I was just taking the energy. I was not listening to kind of not thinking about that they were against me. I was just taking the energy they had, because the energy was electric, and just putting it on the court,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do when it’s against me.”
Medvedev is now into the first Grand Slam quarterfinals of his career, and will most likely be tabbed with the role of a villain once again in his next match. He takes on former champion and 23rd seed Stan Wawrinka, who outplayed defending champion and top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 before Djokovic retired. Wawrinka will surely have the support of the crowd on Tuesday, which should only serve to benefit Medvedev.
In a sport that can use more characters, for better or worse, Medvedev is a refreshing player: honest, charismatic and talented, but also hot-headed and frustrating at times. He faces his toughest test yet against an in-form Wawrinka with a spot in the US Open semifinals on the line.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org