Daniil Medvedev is often described as the villain in the narrative of contemporary tennis and he recently commented on this misinterpretation of himself. Today, however, he definitely was the antagonist of the Cinderella Run of Yannick Hanfmann. The 31-year-old German, whose best ranking was at 91 before this week, reached his first ever quarter-final at a ATP Masters 1000 after coming out of the qualification draw and defeating Nicholas Jarry, Taylor Fritz, Marco Cecchinato, Andrey Rublev en-route.
The world number 3 played a stunning match, reading his opponent’s variety, defending well and counter-attacking even better. Hanfmann did not play a bad match, though his energy level looked a little low at times, and actually managed to find the fire for a final fight at the end of a dominant second set from Medvedev, but the final score was a double 6-2 for the third seed.
In just 1 hour and 20 minutes, Medvedev qualified for his first ever semifinal in Rome -he had actually never won a match here before this week-, the 7th of this incredible first half of the season he is living.
The first three games of the match witnessed as many breaks, but the third game was a telling of the battle fans were to enjoy: Hanfmann mixed things up greatly with frequent incursions to the net, drop shots and plenty serves opening wide. But Medvedev had an answer to each of them.
The German, despite having in the serve a great weapon of his, only managed to hold for the first time in the seventh game of the first set, but his love-hold was only to stay in the set. Medvedev easily wrapped it 6-2.
Once again, the third seed started the set strong, breaking Hanfmann’s serve in the first game, including a sick backhand return winner on the ad side. The German looked more and more tired, also mentally from the continuous answers that Medvedev was finding to his shots, but he still showed great fighting spirit to try and keep close. With the crowd behind, he managed to get one of the two breaks back on 4-2 with a stunning forehand winner on the run.
The stadium roared, but it did not bother Medvedev’s zen. He went on just like in all other games of the match, winning the next two games to close the match.
“I said before the tournament I felt great in practice, and it is dangerous to say it, because when you lose in the first round then you are going to be yourself ‘why did I say that’,” he joked after the match on the fact that after winning no match in the tournament in all these years, he is finally through to the semis: “But it is true, I feel great”.
What was particularly great in his performance today were the tactics, as he clearly had a plan on how to deal with Hanfmann’s game: “I knew I had to put as many balls in the court as possible, he is a very aggressive player, so there will not be that many points when you will be leading the rally. So, what you have to do is to hit deep and try to make him miss, and I made him do it. Maybe he did not play his best match, but you cannot do it every day. I am very happy I could neutralize his attacking style today”.
In the end, Medvedev was no villain at all, but he clearly is hungry for more victories in Rome, so the winner of the quarterfinal match between Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas is warned: Daniil won the last five semifinals he played this season and does not want to break this streak.