Daniil Medvedev returns from extended break with tough win at Dubai Tennis Championships

Top seed plays first match since Australian Open final, beating Alexander Shevchenko in straight sets

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If anyone deserved an extended break after last month's Australian Open, it was Daniil Medvedev. The Russian set an Open era record – arguably an unwanted one – at Melbourne Park for most time spent on court and most amount of sets played at a single Grand Slam tournament.

Had the 30 sets played over 24 hours and 17 minutes resulted in the title, it would have been worth it. That Medvedev ended up second-best for a fifth time in six major finals, after winning the first two sets against Jannik Sinner, was, he said, "very, very tough" to take.

So, while the ATP Tour left Australia to continue its calendar around the world, Medvedev took some time out, some of it optional to recharge from the fatigue, part of it enforced to recover from a minor foot injury caused by his exploits down under.

That meant forgoing opportunities to defend his titles in Rotterdam and Doha, but the world No 4 has now returned at this week's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where he is also the defending champion – the consequence of a sublime run of form 12 months ago when he won three successive tournaments.

Curiously, though, for a player who has won an impressive 20 titles in his career, Medvedev has never successfully defended one. The top seed will hope to change that this week, and he got his campaign underway with a hard-fought win against the talented Alexander Shevchenko on Tuesday evening.

It wasn't perfect and there were clear signs of a player lacking in recent match sharpness, but Medevdev just about managed to get it done in straight sets 6-3, 7-5, aided perhaps by Shevchenko's fitness struggles.

"In general, I'm pretty happy," Medvedev, 28, said. "There were definitely some moments where I could have played better. But I beat a very tough opponent in two sets, so I'm looking forward to the next matches and seeing how I develop."

Medvedev was largely untroubled in the first set and was in total control when he broke Shevchenko twice to take a 5-2 lead. The Kazakh was troubled by a forearm problem and called for the trainer, who essentially told him there wasn't much he could do to help.

Downbeat and looking defeated, Shevchenko managed to fight back to break Medvedev's serve but any momentum was soon halted as he failed to hold serve in the following game as the top seed closed out the opening set.

Against a physically limited opponent and being one set to the good, Medvedev was expected to put his foot down and cruise to victory. But it was the world No 47 who took charge in the second set as Medvedev's level dropped, earning a break in the fifth game and moving into a 5-3 lead.

With Shevchenko serving for the set at 5-4, it was then that Medvedev started playing like Medvedev. The Russian cranked up the intensity, hitting shots with more power and purpose, including an outrageous forehand winner down the line.

The break back duly secured, Medvedev maintained his momentum by winning the final two games, clinching the match in one hour and 28 minutes when Shevchenko sent a forehand long.

Through to the second round, Medvedev's plan to finally defend a title is well on course. He won last year's trophy playing, he said, some of the best tennis of his career, defeating Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and thrashing close friend Andrey Rublev in the final.

"I definitely want to do it one time in my career," Medvedev said about defending a title. "It's not going to be easy here, just coming back after a break. Today was quite a good match but it was not perfect. If you want to win titles, at one moment, especially later in the tournament, you have to be perfect. But that's what I'm going to try to aim for."

Wednesday's last-16 second round will see Andy Murray aim to build on his first-round victory over Denis Shapovalov after a difficult start to the season. The former world No 1, who lost his first four matches of the year and has only reached the second round twice, faces Frenchman Ugo Humbert following the fifth seed's victory over compatriot Gael Monfils on Tuesday.

Second seed and 2022 Dubai champion Rublev also returns to the court and takes on another Frenchman, qualifier Arthur Cazaux.

Updated: February 28, 2024, 6:59 AM