'Very nervous' Medvedev beats Sonego to keep Dubai title defence alive

Top seed overcomes slow start to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals

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Daniil Medvedev admitted he was "very tight and very nervous" during his hard-fought win over Lorenzo Sonego in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday.

Defending champion Medvedev overcame a lacklustre first set to claim a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the Italian in exactly two hours, but the Russian will know he will need to improve his level if he is to retain a title for the first time in his career.

"It was a very tough match in general. I was feeling very tight, very nervous. It could be for many different reasons, but that was the case," Medvedev, 28, said. "When it's like this, it's tougher to play because usually I'm not [nervous]. Usually, it's different nerves that I'm used to, but this one was kind of new.

"Straight away after I lost [points] and missed some shots, I look at my team, I start whining. That's when it's probably not going to be good. At one moment I managed to gather myself together.

"Finally, I didn't lose my serve after that moment. So in general, happy to win it in tough conditions. Sometimes you need to do it like this. If I want to win the next matches, I have to be better. But a win is a win."

How much of the uncharacteristic nerves can be attributed to Medvedev's lack of recent matches only he and his team will fully know, but it wouldn't be a surprise if that played a significant part. The Russian has not played any tournaments in the past month, not since losing the Australian Open final to Jannik Sinner.

Medvedev was slow out of the blocks, getting broken immediately as Sonego moved into a 3-0 lead. The top seed briefly got the set back on serve at 3-2 but was broken again and could have lost the set more heavily had he not saved six set points in the eighth game.

Still, that didn't stop the Italian from taking a deserved lead, leaving Medvedev facing an early exit if he did not quickly find another level.

The Russian's serve improved significantly in the second set, and there was nothing between the two players for most of it until Medvedev finally made his breakthrough, earning his first break of the Sonego serve at the ideal time to take a 5-3 lead before comfortably serving it out to level the match.

By the start of the third set, Medvedev had clearly shaken off those early nerves and was the player in control. He broke Sonego in the fifth and ninth games to claim the victory and advance to the quarter-finals, where he will face Spanish eighth seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Thursday.

Medvedev's victory came after Andy Murray exited the tournament in straight sets to French fifth seed Ugo Humbert, and the British former world No 1 stated afterwards that he is planning to retire after this summer.

On hearing the news, Medvedev paid tribute to the three-time Grand Slam champion, saying: "First of all, he's a fun guy, a great guy to be around. That's always a great quality in life. For sure he's an inspiration of mine because I remember when I was just going up the rankings, that's the moment when he was winning slams, playing finals against Roger, Rafa and Novak. So the big four.

"It's going to be sad when he retires. Even I'm definitely not sure that he's going to stop this year. Wimbledon is a big tournament, maybe Wimbledon and then stop. But while he's here, it's going to be fun. [When] he's not here, I'm sure he's going to find a good spot in his life after tennis."

Updated: February 28, 2024, 6:30 PM