Medvedev playing both hero and villain at Australian Open

3 minute read

Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 24, 2022 Russia's Daniil Medvedev celebrates winning his fourth round match against Maxime Cressy of the U.S. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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MELBOURNE, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Daniil Medvedev has tapped into the energy of the crowd at Melbourne Park by playing both hero and villain, while the world number two's mind games have also earned him comparisons with American great Jimmy Connors.

Similarly to his run to the U.S. Open final in 2019, where the Russian antagonised fans at Flushing Meadows early on before ultimately winning them over, Medvedev has engaged with crowds at the Australian Open in his four victories so far.

The 25-year-old, who plays Felix Auger-Aliassime in a quarter-final on Wednesday, criticised fans for emulating Cristiano Ronaldo's famous "Siuuu!" goal celebration during a match and later said some had a "low IQ".

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But after his third-round triumph over Botic van de Zandschulp, the U.S. Open champion was trying to win them over once again.

"Every good relationship must have its ups and downs, so I think it's good, it's entertaining, and I think it's real. There is some relationship going on," he said.

Roger Rasheed, who has coached players such as Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov, said Medvedev was skilful in using the reactions of fans to his advantage.

"It is powerful if you can use it and absorb it, but it has also hurt people in the past because they feel the heat of all of that and the emotions of it, and because it is so high-octane, you can actually get too wound up," he said.

"Some people can't emotionally stay stable through that time. Some people raise their level and it gets a bit too intense for them. It is quite a balancing act.

"Then there are players who rise and love that space and they use it. Daniil is one of them."

Craig O'Shannessy, a strategy analyst working with Australian player Alexei Popyrin, said Medvedev had mastered a double-act on the court.

"He does both sides of that equation probably better than anyone at the moment," he said.

"I mean, (Nick) Kyrgios is another guy who does it. It is not easy to play the hero and the villain, but Medvedev pulls it off.

"He injects himself into that negativity with the crowd, but that still helps pick him up. Then he will do the opposite and get the crowd on his side, which will help elevate him emotionally as well."

Rasheed said crowds liked that Medvedev spoke his mind, a trait which Swedish great Mats Wilander said the Russian shared with Connors.

Medvedev's description of fourth-round opponent Maxime Cressy's style as "so boring" was similar to the way Connors used to provoke opponents, added Wilander, a three-time Australian Open champion.

"It was very unusual for a player to say what Daniil (said) out loud and then confess to the fact that, 'Yeah. I was trying to get into his head,'" Wilander said on Eurosport.

"In the 80s, there was one particular player ... Jimmy Connors who definitely tried to get into his opponents' head. It's very honest from Medvedev."

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Reporting by Courtney Walsh; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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