Dubai champion Daniil Medvedev banishes doubts to become man to beat at Indian Wells

Russian arrives in California after winning his last three tournaments and back in the form that took him to the top of the rankings

Daniil Medvedev poses with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy after beating Andrey Rublev in the final. EPA
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Daniil Medvedev revealed recently that his confidence had dropped so low at the start of the year that he sought advice from a fellow professional on how to win tennis matches.

That desperate plea from the Russian former world No 1 came after his straight-sets defeat to Sebastian Korda in the third round of the Australian Open in January and as he was preparing to continue his season in Rotterdam.

"After the Australian Open – a tough loss, three sets to love – I was feeling bad. I was doubting myself before Rotterdam. I was not feeling good at all," Medvedev said.

"I have a story. I went to one of the Russian guys while getting ready for my match with [Alejandro] Davidovich Fokina (in the first round at the Rotterdam Open). I said, 'come on, man, tell me how to win a match'. He was like, 'you know better than me', but I said, 'no, I don't know anything at the moment.'"

It provided fascinating insight into the mind of a player who in 2021 and throughout much of 2022 was unquestionably one of the very best in the world, even with an injury layoff for hernia surgery. Six titles, a Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2021 US Open, and a further two major finals had established Medvedev at the top of the game.

Then came a curious end-of-season dip. After winning the Vienna Open last October, Medvedev lost four straight matches to close the year. A one-sided defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Adelaide International semi-finals then started the new season, before the humbling loss to Korda in Melbourne.

Medvedev arrived in Rotterdam last month ranked outside the top 10, at 11th, and as he said himself, questioning how to even win anymore.

He really shouldn't have worried. Medvedev tore through the field to collect his first title of the season and maintained his momentum to go back-to-back by winning the Qatar Open the following week. The Russian, then up to world No 7, arrived in the UAE for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on a hat-trick but facing a more competitive field, led by world No 1 Djokovic, who was unbeaten for the season.

Again, Medvedev reigned supreme, carving through the draw - including a dominant win over Djokovic - to win his third straight title and doing so without dropping a set. His run in Dubai also ended a nine-match losing run against top-10 opposition.

Medvedev's story about seeking advice ahead of Rotterdam was told after his lop-sided final victory against Andrey Rublev. "Now, after every tournament, he's texting me saying, 'is it OK now?'" he concluded. "I feel ashamed. But that's how tennis is. I managed to keep some confidence going and I'm really happy about it."

Confidence soaring and momentum building, Medvedev arrived in California this week for the first Masters 1000 of the year at Indian Wells riding a 14-match win streak and very much the player to beat. The flat, powerful, metronomic ball-striking is once again firing on all cylinders, the serve looking devastating, and more importantly, the belief is back.

Medvedev beats Rublev in Dubai final

Djokovic's absence, due to his unvaccinated status against Covid-19, weakens any tournament and further boosts Medvedev's standing as the leading contender. But as the 27-year-old Russian displayed in Dubai, he is more the capable of taking down the 22-time Grand Slam champion.

Of course, other threats lurk in the Indian Wells draw. Greek world No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who started the season on a 10-match winning run and reached the Australian Open final, will expect to be among the title challengers, as will second-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who last year became the youngest player in ATP Tour history to top the rankings.

The Spaniard, still only 19, had a delayed start to the season because of injury, but returned with a title in Buenos Aires and a run to the final in Rio de Janeiro. Both those tournaments were played on clay, so how well and how quickly Alcaraz adapts to the faster hard courts could determine the success of his campaign.

With Djokovic absent and Nadal injured, Indian Wells will provide another window into the near future of men's tennis, a future which is expected to see the biggest titles shared among a wider pool of players. Yet, even then, the best still rise to the top, and with his emphatic return to form, Medvedev looks to be back at the front of the pack.

Updated: March 09, 2023, 5:58 AM