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26 Jan, 2022 17:45

Medvedev vs Tsitsipas: Bitter rivals face colossal grudge match

The top seed meets the rival he once angrily accused of calling him a 'bullsh*t Russian'
Medvedev vs Tsitsipas: Bitter rivals face colossal grudge match

Daniil Medvedev's back-from-the-brink win over the impressive Felix Auger Aliassime has set up another tantalizing tussle between the Russian and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who he will meet for a place in the final of the Australian Open that they both have reasons to feel confident about reaching.

As if Medvedev has not been involved in enough entertainment already, the showdown pits him against a player with whom, professional post-match remarks this week aside, he has a relationship as frosty as the bottles players gulp from while they are sitting in their chairs during matches in Melbourne.

Uncompromising Medvedev had just taken his seat after beating Tsitsipas in a comeback win in Miami in 2018 when the most memorable incident between the duo exploded into what threatened to become fisticuffs.

A clearly irritated Medvedev returned to his feet and said something along the lines of "you'd better shut the f*ck up" to Tsitsipas, who was contemplating his defeat.

The match official felt compelled to step in as Medvedev tried to make his way towards his opponent, repeatedly telling Tsitsipas to "look at me" before insisting to the umpire several times that "he started it".

Medvedev had appeared to try to square up to Tsitsipas, he claimed as the Greek walked away with his bag over his shoulder, because Tsitsipas had called him a "bullsh*t Russian".

That accusation was all the more curious because current world number four Tsitsipas, in common with the man immediately ahead of him in the rankings, Alex Zverev, has Russian heritage through his Russian mother and half-Russian maternal grandfather.

Tsitsipas's mother, Julia Apostoli, beat Zverev's Russian mother, Irina Zvereva, in the final of a tournament in 1994 – and that is not the only good omen the 23-year-old may look to in his bid to beat Medvedev for only the third time in nine meetings.

Before Medvedev recovered from losing the first two sets and being match point down to Aliassime in Melbourne, Tsitsipas breezed past 11th seed Jannik Sinner with apparent ease, never facing a break point on his way to a second consecutive final-four date at the tournament.

Medvedev brushed off a suggestion that his long, sweat-drenched match against Aliassime would affect his physical abilities in the semifinal on Friday, although he would surely rather have rattled off a win in the mere two hours and six minutes that Tsitsipas spent on court in the Australian heat.

On the other hand, Medvedev should be able to summon any extra belief he needs by looking back at his semifinal last year, when he beat Tsitsipas in straight sets.

A noticeably crestfallen Tsitsipas was clearly upset by his underwhelming performance on that occasion, meaning he will not be short of motivation to correct that showing this year.

The four-time Grand Slam semifinalist has already earned revenge, beating Medvedev in straight sets in the final eight at the 2021 French Open, when he cheekily described the underhand serve with which Medvedev unsuccessfully finished the match as a "very millennial shot".

As part of the 'next-gen' of players expected to succeed Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as consistent major winners, Medvedev and Tsitsipas both fit the millennial tag.

Medvedev wants to reinforce his champion credentials after earning his first Grand Slam title by cruising past Djokovic at the 2021 US Open. Tsitsipas is desperate to go beyond a major final for the first time, having lost to Djokovic at the last hurdle in Paris.

Tsitsipas has called the experience of playing Medvedev "boring", echoing the words Medvedev used to describe his "unbelievably lucky" fourth-round opponent, Maxime Cressy, in Australia.

On the evidence of their fast-paced, high-quality French Open quarterfinal, viewers who watch their latest clash are unlikely to think of the word boring.

With pre-tournament favorite Djokovic absent following his visa cancelation because he was not vaccinated against Covid, both men will look back with regret if they do not take what is a golden chance to win the title in 2022.

Rafael Nadal is an obvious huge threat in the final, although he has only won the trophy once, and that was 13 years ago.

Nadal's semifinal opponent, world number seven Matteo Berrettini, has gone beyond the fourth round at the tournament for the first time and would be an underdog against Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

Then there is the potential sideshow of more flashpoints between players whose previous encounters give them added incentive to beat each other.

Two of Tsitsipas's wins against Medvedev have come in their three most recent matches, and he seemed in a zen-like mood after beating Berrettini, suggesting that he shares no animosity with Medvedev.

Tsitsipas did say that the pair have not spoken for two months, which will have been no surprise to anyone suspecting that they may not have exchanged Christmas cards.

Medvedev has previously said he does not have "any sort of relationship at all" with Tsitsipas, although he has spoken of an on-court respect for him that has not always been evident.

Each of the last four matches between them has ended in a straight-sets victory. Starting off with momentum – and using their lingering grudges to positive effect – could be crucial in carrying one of these contrasting contenders to the final.