Updated2/6/2021 12:21:00 AM
World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev outlasted Alexander Zverev in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 marathon on Saturday at Melbourne Park to clinch Russia’s first ATP Cup final berth. After Andrey Rublev took down Jan-Lennard Struff earlier in the No. 2 singles match, Russia clinched the tie and advanced to face Italy for the title.
“We're really happy to get the win, that's the most important,” Medvedev said in his post-match press conference. “Tough matches [for] both of us. Both [Andrey and I] lost the first set. [It was] not easy, because we had two days off before the match… But happy we're in the final. That's the most important.”
The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Medvedev came into the clash trailing Zverev 3-5 in their ATP Head2Head, but high on confidence after winning the pair's recent two meetings, including a straight-sets victory en route to the trophy in London.
Playing under the closed roof on Rod Laver Arena, Medvedev had to overcome a slow start as he contended with the German’s booming second serve. Zverev regularly topped the 200 kph mark with his first and second delivery to keep Medvedev on the back foot. The Russian had done his scouting, and stood deep behind the baseline to handle the returns.
But he couldn’t break through the rock-solid Zverev in the opening set as the German won the three games with an early break. His relentless attack kept Medvedev under pressure, creating a break opportunity in each of the Russian’s first three service games before closing out the opening set.
Zverev continued to make Medvedev come up with an extra shot, earning plenty of unforced errors from the Russian’s racquet in the second set as he took an early lead with a break at 3-2. But Medvedev stayed patient, claiming the next four games to make his way back. Zverev struggled physically as the second set wound to a close, and took a medical time out trailing 3-4 to treat a tight low back.
“When it's against Sascha and you are 6-3, 3-2 break down, many times you're going to lose a match,” Medvedev said. “But I needed to keep my chances alive for the team first of all, for the country. I just tried to stay there, got a bit tight maybe. I just did my job and I'm really happy about it.”
Medvedev closed out the second set comfortably, but despite battling lower back discomfort, Zverev dug deep in the decider to extend his stay in the contest. Zverev put in a mammoth effort to keep pace with the Russian player for 10 tightly contested games, but an untimely double fault gave Medvedev the late break at 6-5. The Russian player double faulted twice on match point and had to fight off five break points as Zverev pushed him to the limit, but he prevailed after two hours and 30 minutes to send Russia into the final.
“I wasn't serving well today, that's why I was in trouble many times,” Medvedev said. “[The] third set was a little bit better. I started to make some big serves in big moments. That was a big key against Sascha. He serves well. If you don't serve well, he's going to return the balls in the court and it's going to be tough. That was the key today. I managed to I think keep it up during the match.”
Earlier in the day, World No. 8 Rublev responded emphatically after dropping his first set of 2021 ATP Cup to Germany’s No. 2 Struff, rallying to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 and giving Russia an early lead in the semi-final tie.
“Andrey is an amazing player,” Medvedev praised. “Last year, what he did [was] something special. Today in the first set, he was not hitting as he can... But he managed to keep his nerves, and that’s what champions do. He managed to get a point for the team so I could [have] it easier.”
Rublev came into the tournament as one of the hottest players on Tour, winning the the most titles (five) and joint-most matches (41) last year as he soared into the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He carried that momentum into Melbourne, cruising to victory in his rubbers against Guido Pella of Argentina and Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan to put Russia back into the semi-finals.
He faced his biggest challenge of the tournament against Struff, who amassed three victories in singles and doubles in the group stage. Struff imposed his big-serving game to cool off the Russian’s rhythm, keeping the points short and not allowing his opponent to control the rallies from the baseline. The strategy paid off as a frustrated Rublev served up two double faults in the same game to hand Struff the opening break, and a way to take the opening set.
But Rublev responded by doubling down in his attacking strategy, and he left Struff shell-shocked as he powered his way back into the match with a double break to start the second set. Rublev stayed aggressive, firing 37 winners off both wings as he dropped just three games across the next two sets to take the victory after an hour and 34 minutes.
“In the first set I was really nervous, and plus he was playing really good,” Rublev said in his on-court interview. “He was attacking a lot and he was all over me. I couldn’t answer. And then in the second set I said, ‘If I’m going to play like this, I’m going to lose 6-3. 6-3 and that’s it.’ So I need to change, go for the shots, start to hit as well. I raised my level, I started to play more aggressive, I started to move better. That was the change.”
Russia ultimately prevailed 2-1 after Germany claimed its only point of the tie in the doubles rubber. Kevin Krawietz and Struff dodged a match tie break to defeat Evgeny Donskoy and Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 7-6(2).