Updated2/7/2021 4:54:00 AM
Team Russia barely put a foot out of place during an imperious run to the 2021 ATP Cup title, living up to their banner as the heavy favourites with a powerhouse team led by two Top 10 players, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.
Medvedev and Rublev, No. 4 and No. 8 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, only dropped two sets between them as they remained undefeated throughout their respective singles matches to steer Russia to its first ATP Cup victory. They never faced a deciding doubles rubber as they navigated past tricky ties against Argentina, Japan and Germany before defeating Italy in the final.
“I'm just actually more happy for the guys, that they're achieving [a] level that is going to be out of the limit soon because they're playing unbelievable tennis,” said team captain Evgeny Donskoy. “I’m as happy as possible to actually be. Just wishing them to play the same [way] they played today in the main draw of Australian Open.”
Two of the most in-form guys on tour, Medvedev and Rublev are two names that no ATP player wants to see in their part of the draw. But the players themselves might well be facing that daunting prospect at the Australian Open: If they keep up their current level, they could be on track for a blockbuster quarter-final clash.
“I didn’t see the draw, I don’t want to see the draw,” Rublev lamented after captain Donskoy spilled the beans in Team Russia’s post-match press conference. “I didn’t even pass one round and already you put that in my head?”
For Russian tennis fans, the news only gets worse. All of Russia’s Top 3-ranked players landed in the same half of the Australian Open draw, with Karen Khachanov, the No. 19 seed, looming as a potential semi-final opponent.
But despite the unlucky draw, Medvedev and Rublev were both quick to sign up for a potential quarter-final meeting, as neither player has yet to advance past the fourth round in Melbourne.
“It's going to be great,” Medvedev said. “You cannot change the draw. If it happens, it's perfect.”
Medvedev, the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion, sealed Russia’s victory with a win over Matteo Berrettini in the final. It was his 14th consecutive victory, a personal-best streak that dates back to the Rolex Paris Masters and includes his London triumph. It was also an impressive 10th victory against a Top 10 player, after adding Alexander Zverev and Diego Schwartzman to the list this week.
“It's just a really big achievement… 10 matches against Top 10 opponents, didn't lose a match in these 10 matches,” Medvedev reflected. “It's a big boost in confidence. Even when you lose, you know that you're capable of playing this level, and it helps you for the next time to stand up.”
That confidence was evident on the court, as Medvedev celebrated his ATP Cup victory with an unusually exuberant post-victory reaction. Breaking from his ‘non-celebration’ routine, the Russian player cracked a grin and lifted a hand to salute the crowd at Rod Laver Arena. The gesture was a homage to German footballer Mario Gomez, he explained afterward, whose signature bullfighting courtesy was a common sight during his Bayern Munich heyday. It's not the first celebration he's copied from his Bayern idol.
“Because it was a team tournament, this one is kind of not really [a] celebration, like ‘C'mon.’” Medvedev explained. “Mario Gomez did it sometimes when he was playing for Bayern. [He] was my favourite player at the time.
“Actually, sometimes he didn't celebrate his goals also... I really liked it, so I tried to copy it. I don't think I did well, but it was funny.”