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An end to orange hate: Rome title for Medvedev and a real chance in Paris

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Twenty titles in twenty cities. Daniil Medvedev added his twentieth professional trophy at the Rome Masters 1000. And it won’t be the most important one, but it will be an immensely significant one for the Russian’s career for winning on a surface he always hated. A first title on clay that propels him to fight for Roland Garros like never before at the age of 27.

After the announcement of Rafael Nadal’s absence in France, the former world number one is positioned only behind Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic as the biggest contender for the crown, with very clear arguments.

Medvedev arrives with his confidence very high being the best so far in 2023. With five titles in six finals, he made it to the number one ranking in the Race to Turin. But the most relevant aspect: the changing relationship with the clay.

Did he fall in love with clay? Let’s just say, no, he just sent it to the friendzone. “Friendship! I don’t think I love it. My only love are hard courts. My only love in tennis,” joked Medvedev, with a wink to his mistress, present in the stands: “I definitely like clay more than before.”

The Russian was coming to the European clay season with as many finals under his belt as no one had done since Roger Federer in 2006, but he was not much confident on the orange courts. “I’m already preparing myself mentally not to go crazy. I can be dangerous on clay, but I have to have a good day,” he said after winning in Miami, and knowing he wouldn’t have many days for adaptation before the dust-up in Monte Carlo.

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“I’ve always believed in myself, that I can win the most important tournaments in the world, but honestly on the other hand I never thought I could win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career, because I usually hate it, nothing ever works out, I feel bad on the court,” he told Tennis TV. In Monte Carlo and Madrid I didn’t feel so bad, and arriving in Rome he told his coach that he was feeling great, so he realized he could get the win.

Medvedev
Medvedev with the trophy in Rome // ALESSANDRA TARANTINO

Medvedev is genuine as always. When he is pissed, and when he is funny. Or maybe in the combination of both, because Medvedev’s expressions of displeasure against the clay raise a cult-like record that cause amusement after seeing him as a winner in the Foro Italico.

“Gerry, please disqualify me. I don’t want to be here anymore, it’s dangerous for everyone,” he exclaimed two years ago in Italy to ATP supervisor Gerry Armstrong. He was slipping more than usual, he was allergic to the dust he was kicking up. In 2023 he slides with skill and balance, and makes better use of his often defensive tennis.

“It’s the worst surface in the world for me. If someone likes to be on the ground like a dog, I do not judge,” he would also say at the time in 2021. And two years later he celebrates kneeling, with stained legs and happy… like a dog with a new bone after the 7-5 and 7-5 over Holger Rune in the Roman final.

Very relevant too: he climbed to the second place in the ranking, less than 500 points behind Alcaraz, and left Djokovic third. That opens the possibility of the Spaniard and the Serb meeting in the semifinals of the French Open.

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Medvedev shows positive record in the season against other players that could cross him in the second week in Phillippe Chatrier. Direct rivals like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner and Alexander Zverev. And as if these were not enough arguments, the winner of the US Open 2021 is one of those players who run with more advantage when playing five sets because of his mental and physical strength, and because he has the experience of being already a Grand Slam champion, an aspect that also takes pressure off him.

He has already won in Paris, but in the indoor season, on hard court and at the Bercy Masters 1000. Will he finally be able to repeat as champion, but this time upgrading and changing floors in the French capital?

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