Daniil Medvedev has always been open about his testy relationship with clay. So how did he rise to become an ATP Masters 1000 champion on the surface?
The 27-year-old had not won a match in three previous appearances at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, but he capped a dream run Sunday by defeating Holger Rune to triumph in Rome.
It was Medvedev’s first ATP Tour title on clay at any level, let alone at a Masters 1000. Even given his solid form on European clay courts prior to Rome, the former World No. 1 expressed some disbelief at his title run in Italy and admitted the unexpected nature of his triumph made it one of his best yet.
“In a way [this is my] number one [success], just because it’s the first one on clay and it’s unbelievable,” said Medvedev in his post-match press conference. “I would never have thought I would be able to make this. Then [I] have to be honest, a Grand Slam is always bigger. [The 2021] US Open is always number one there.
“This one is special because I didn’t think it was going to be able to happen, [that I was] going to be able to make it. I still kind of don’t believe… Not that I won it, but I played so well this week. I don’t believe it.
“The way I played, I’m really happy. Happy to have this trophy back home in some time.”
Medvedev’s deep groundstrokes have been a key feature of his clay-court development. His baseline retrieving has been the basis for his hard-court success (18 of his 20 tour-level titles have come on the surface), and he cited a change of strings at the start of the 2023 season as a reason why he has been able to replicate his form on the clay this year.
“Straightaway in Australia [with the new strings] actually, where I lost, with my coach we were like, ‘Wow, I have the easy depth on the ball, which is amazing,” said Medvedev.
“In Australia, [it] didn’t work. I was 100 per cent doubting myself. Should I go back to the old ones, I was playing good with them? I said no, let’s try more. Now it’s unbelievable.”
Medvedev’s title run was his fifth of a standout 2023 season, including Masters 1000 crowns in Miami and Rome. The 20-time tour-level titlist believes his experience playing under championship-match pressure at Masters 1000 events helped him keep his cool at tough moments against Rune.
“For sure every time you play a big final, it’s an experience,” said Medvedev. “It’s an experience for the next one. For example, both Miami and here, I felt like the start was so-so, then I managed to get into the match more and more and play better and better.
“When I played my first [ATP Masters 1000 final, in Montreal in 2019], it was against Rafa [Nadal]. I got destroyed. I started bad, as I kind of started these matches, then I was only playing worse and worse. The next one I managed to win against Goffin [in Cincinnati in 2019]. It was a tight match from both of us. We knew it’s going to be first one for us.
“With experience, I managed to do better in this moment, so maybe that helped. But then in general terms, after Miami, I was feeling confident, good.”