Daniil Medvedev might tower over most of his Next Gen peers at 6-foot-6, but he's been surprisingly easy to overlook. This despite his increasingly secret weapon.
That weapon isn't his serve, which is big if not pre-emptive. Nor is it Medvedev's movement, which is excellent for a player of his size. It's not that airtight pair of groundstrokes. The quality that has lifted Medvedev to a career-high No. 15 in the rankings is his consistency.
"I have an all-around game," Medvedev, 23, told reporters after he won the ATP 500 in Tokyo last fall. "I don't have weak spots that you can attack and definitely beat me. Sometimes the guy doesn't know what to do against me to win."
The impregnable nature of his game has been on full display in the past two weeks. Medvedev won in Sofia, Bulgaria, and built a streak of 15 consecutive set wins as he hammered his way to the semifinals in Rotterdam. Then on Saturday, he was beaten in the semis by Gael Monfils, whom Medvedev had beaten days just earlier in Sofia. Still, the Russian leads the ATP Tour with 14 tour-level victories (14-3) this season, and he has won four tournaments in six finals over the past 13 months.
Medvedev grew up idolizing fellow countryman and former ATP No. 1 Marat Safin, a mercurial star whose punishing game rubbed off on the youngster. When Medvedev first came on the tour, it looked as if he might have inherited Safin's spectacularly erratic tendencies as well.
"Since I was younger I was just thinking about my tennis and I thought I could always come on the court and win if I hit the ball good," Medvedev told ATPTour.com, referring to his once-blasé attitude and lax work ethic. "So I changed it. I've changed myself on the tennis court. That's where I am right now and I want to only improve."
Medvedev's coach, Gilles Cervara, admitted that he had his work cut out for him as recently as late 2017, saying his protégé "didn't care about things." His work habits were poor work, and he was indifferent to basics like good nutrition. But Medvedev turned a corner in fall 2017 and made a significant breakthrough at Sydney at the start of 2018.
Advancing through qualifying, he pounded his way to the final against another rising Next Gen talent, Australia's Alex de Minaur. Medvedev was two breaks up in the third set of that match and served for the title at 5-3. But with his supportive countrymen driving him on, de Minaur came roaring back to 5-all. Medvedev kept his nerve -- and his game -- and won the final set 7-5.
"Probably two years ago, I would just have said, 'No, I don't want this anymore.'" Medvedev told reporters afterward. "But I managed to win it -- my first title. It gave me a big push."
The wind has been at his back ever since. While most of his Next Gen rivals have had trouble building on breakthrough performances or doing the week-by-week grunt work of the tour, he's been in more finals than any of them but for 21-year-old outlier Alexander Zverev. (The German star is currently ranked No. 3 and has a 10-5 record in finals). Karen Khachanov, another Russian Next Gen standout, has also won four titles (including a Masters 1000), but he's been in two fewer finals than Medvedev.
Medvedev hasn't lost a first-round match since the Cincinnati Masters last August. He's been to the third round or better in 10 of the 12 events he's played since, and he's been in the semifinals or better in five of his past seven outings. That kind of consistency is the most challenging goal for any young player making his way on the tour.
"I was always dreaming big, because I knew I had some talent or something in me to play good," Medvedev said. "At one moment when I started to take tennis more seriously, I knew I would have a chance, if I did everything right, to be where I am right now."
Where he is right now is standing tall, head and shoulders above most of his generational rivals.