When a dead rubber messes with your head
The pointlessness of a dead rubber in tennis was not lost on Daniil Medvedev as the defending champion (purposely) yawned on court while Jannik Sinner was launching a comeback, stretching him into an unnecessary three-setter, and rallying the roaring home crowd behind him.
Entering the match, Medvedev was already guaranteed top spot in the Red Group, while Alexander Zverev’s victory over Hubert Hurkacz earlier in the day ended Sinner’s chances of advancing to the semi-finals.
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That meant the night session match between Medvedev and Sinner had no bearing on how the tournament progressed, but it did award the winner 200 ranking points along with $173,000.
Points and prize money are not nothing, but this match would have been ‘alive’ and way more intriguing to follow if organisers had switched the order of play, scheduling Medvedev-Sinner in the day session and Zverev-Hurkacz for the night session.
But that would have robbed the Italian crowd from watching their home favourite Sinner in the prime time slot of 9pm on a Thursday night.
Alas, ticket sales prevailed over common tennis sense and the result was a fun dead rubber that was played in a buoyant atmosphere, with a maximum allowed capacity crowd, and a fired-up Sinner fighting for his first career victory against a top-five player.
The 20-year-old Italian ultimately succumbed 6-0 6-7(5) 7-6(8), despite holding two match points against the Russian world No.2.
Medvedev’s up-and-down performance – which oscillated between brilliance and indifference – was indicative of just how illogical the situation was and he walked us through his thought process after he picked up his eighth consecutive ATP Finals match-win.
“Mentally it’s really tough before the match when you know the match is dead,” said Medvedev, who faces either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev in the semi-finals.
“At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my rhythm. It’s always a matter of first set I think, you never know what’s going to happen. I won it, quite easy, so I was like, ‘Okay, let’s continue this way’,” added the Russian, who delivered a first-set bagel to Sinner in 25 minutes.
“Then the second set was probably about an hour or so. And then it’s the third set but you’re like, ‘I’m not going to just not play the third set’. Because I like to win, I don’t like to lose, so it was a very tough match and very tough to talk about it, but I’m happy I won.”
Things you don’t see every day
In a match that had ‘weird’ written all over it, Medvedev did his fair share of strange things en route to victory.
Besides the mock-yawning, playing at lightning-fast pace in the decider (he was taking just 12 seconds between points from the allotted 25), blasting huge second serves and serving-and-volleying while match point down, Medvedev actually challenged his own serve at one point during the contest, even though it was called in.
Serving at 1-2, deuce, in the second set, Medvedev hit a serve that was deemed in and Sinner responded with a punishing return winner. The Russian challenged his own serve, hoping it was a fault and he’d get another shot at winning that point. But the crowd roared as Hawk-Eye revealed his serve was in and Sinner broke for 3-1 moments later.
Scoring points with the crowd
Although he usually thrives on antagonising the crowd, especially when they’ve turned on him first, Medvedev earned some credit with spectators at the Pala Alpitour when he gave Sinner a point late in the third set, after the umpire had called for it to be replayed.
Granted, Medvedev was keen to get off court as quickly as possible, which may have contributed to his decision to end the argument between Sinner and the umpire and avoid replaying a point when he was already down 40-0 in the Italian’s service game; but it was still a classy touch that earned huge applause from the crowd.
A little extra support surely can’t hurt when he’s back on court for the semi-finals on Saturday.
Horia’s perfect ending
He may have missed out on a place in the semi-finals in Turin but retiring Romanian Horia Tecau made sure he ended his ATP career with a victory as he and his partner Kevin Krawietz downed Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers 6-3 6-7(1) [10-6] on Thursday.
“I’m very happy, to be honest, in this moment,” said the 36-year-old Tecau.
Couldn’t have had a better script to live this moment
“I’m very grateful to be here at the end of the year in a great team on the biggest stage and to play against friends that I have known for 15 years or more and come out with a win. Yeah, I will leave the sport with that feeling.”
A two-time Grand Slam men’s doubles champion and Olympic silver medallist, Tecau is a popular player in the locker room and finished his career by making a seventh appearance at the ATP Finals – a tournament he won alongside Jean-Julien Rojer in 2015.
Reflecting on the legacy he hopes to leave behind in the sport, Tecau said: “When I was a junior, I met great coaches along the way that always installed this feeling of give it 100 percent and be respectful, playing to win, have good attitude on the court, treat everyone with respect all around, the players, the staff, the fans, everyone.
“That’s also something that I have seen with other players before me. I was a big fan of Stefan Edberg, I was a big fan of Rafter, big fan of Roger. I got to see Roger and meet him and see how he handles himself. Not in the press conferences or on the court but also off the court.
“Yeah, big role models in this sport. It’s also something that I wanted to have and carry throughout my career. I would say that’s the legacy that I want to leave behind. And for the tennis fans and kids especially that like the game and have dreams to see that, you know, you can have a good career and be successful and fulfil your dreams by having good values, good attitude and that. You don’t necessarily need to be, you know, closed and very selfish and, you know, not pay attention to others. I feel I did that, and I lived my career like that.”
Later on court, the ATP held a small ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Victor Troicki, Martin Klizan, Steve Darcis, Julian Knowle and Paolo Lorenzi, who have all hung up their racquets this season.
Stats of the day
Sinner is now 0-9 against top-five opponents.
Zverev’s triumph over Hurkacz earned him a tour-leading 57th match-win of the season.
Zverev is into the semi-finals of the season-ending championships for the third time in five appearances.
Medvedev is now 14-5 in deciding sets played in 2021.
With Djokovic, Medvedev and Zverev all through to the last-four stage, this is the first time since 1994 that three former champions have all advanced to the semi-finals of the ATP Finals.
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