No. 2-Ranked Tennis Player Daniil Medvedev Talks Novak Djokovic Rivalry and ‘FIFA’ Obsession
The Russian-born tennis star talks about his turbulent past and the promising year ahead.
For a while, Daniil Medvedev was the tennis pro fans loved to hate. But in recent months he’s becoming the player they love to love.
After bawling out the ref and then egging on booing fans at the 2019 US Open, Medvedev fought a grueling final lasting nearly five hours against a fading Rafael Nadal, but lost in five sets. He bounced back winning a second consecutive title at the Shanghai Masters, becoming the seventh male player since 2000 to reach nine or more ATP finals in a season.
With momentum building, he battled through to the finals at the 2020 Australian Open but lost to Novak Djokovic who was on his way to overtaking Federer and Nadal to become the man with the most Grand Slam titles ever.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Forest Hills; Medvedev employed a wide arsenal of razor-sharp skills and steely tenacity that dashed Djokovic’s Grand Slam dreams at last year’s US Open.
More recently, Medvedev lost to Nadal again in five sets at the 2022 Australian Open final, which saw Nadal set the all-time men’s record with 21 Grand Slam titles, breaking a tie he previously held with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Russian-born Medvedev lives with his actress/model wife Daria in Monaco, playground of the rich and famous. A brand ambassador for venerable Swiss watchmaker Bovet 1833 (in addition to endorsement deals with the likes of BMW and Lacoste, among others), he’s got the beautiful timepieces, luxurious digs, gorgeous wife—and, surely soon enough, more gleaming trophies to add to his crowded mantel.
Here, the World No. 2-ranked tennis star tells us about the turbulent past and the promising year ahead.
You lost to Djokovic in Australia, but had that incredible victory at the 2021 US Open. What does that do for your confidence?
Australia was a very tough match for me. It was in early 2021. I felt good, I was playing well, and then he beat me in three straight sets in the final. We all know he is an incredible player, he has already won 20 Grand Slams. But at the same time I go into every match believing I can win.
Moving forward to the US Open, this was a different match. I learned from the Australian Open final, of course, and tried to take that into this match in New York. Winning a first Grand Slam is always a big step and I’m very proud to achieve that. Having said that, and I have said this many times before, I go to every tournament to try and win. I want to look back and just say I tried my best and won as many things as possible.
How’s your relationship with Djokovic off the court?
We have a good relationship. I have nothing but respect for what he has achieved. He is breaking so many records and that is what we are all trying to do. You’re known for being candid with refs.
Are there any instances you wish you’d done differently?
Of course. Nobody is perfect and neither am I. People often ask me about the US Open in 2019. I made a mistake earlier in the tournament and the crowd went after me a little bit. I deserved it. But I also came back, apologized, admitted I was wrong, and I believe people respect that. So yes, I will always be direct and honest on the court. It doesn’t mean I am always right but I try to learn and be better every year.
It looked like you eventually won them over.
In the end I focus on my tennis. That is what matters in the end, to win the match. The crowd can be in many different ways, but most of the time I think I have a great relationship with the crowd. I do think that in the end the crowd sees who I really am as a person and that I try to be a good person. So, that is important for me.
2019 was a breakthrough year for you. What changed?
It’s a funny question, as many people asked me what changed. It was actually one year earlier, my coach and I had to drive from Washington, DC to Canada, as the flights did not work out. On this eight-hour car ride, my coach kind of challenged me. He asked me if I was really doing everything I can to be the best. It was on this ride that we changed my life a little bit. I started sleeping better, eating better, training harder. It just took a little bit of time to see the results. 2019 and beyond obviously was a result of that car ride.
How did the pandemic affect your game? Seems like you had a sluggish 2020, until you kicked ass at November ATP.
I think most of the players needed some time to adjust. It was strange playing without fans, empty stadiums. Obviously, most of the players were thankful that it was possible to get back on tour. This pandemic is obviously a serious problem and keeping people safe was the main concern. I believe it took some time for all the players to get used to the new travel, the new atmosphere. Overall, I’m happy to be back on tour full time.
What areas of your game are you still working on? What is the biggest obstacle you face at the moment?
A very simple answer… everything. On average days I try to do six to seven hours a day on the court. I have only a limited amount of time to be a pro tennis player and will do everything I can to make the most out of that.
And that includes banning video games?
I love gaming. It really is a big hobby. I love playing EA’s/FIFA amongst others. We made a rule that I don’t bring it to tournaments as then I don’t sleep enough.
You’ve talked about self-confidence issues, how are you handling it?
We work so hard in the off weeks to improve our tennis. Of course, you want to see the result in the matches in tournaments. So, it is key to believe in yourself, to have confidence. When playing against other top-ten guys, we know we can always lose as they are also very good. So, having the belief that I can win is key and something that every tennis player looks for.
Fans have seen you become dispirited on the court, then dig down deep for a second wind. Does that come with maturity? Discipline?
No, not really, just a will to win every single time. I hate to lose.