Daniil Medvedev finds his groove in first-round victory at Australian Open

Daniil Medvedev looked right at home on Rod Laver Arena as he beat American Frances Tiafoe to reach the second round. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- There must have been times during his run to the final at the US Open last September, and his hate-love relationship with the crowd, when Daniil Medvedev felt like disappearing.

But few people could have turned around an awkward situation as Medvedev did, first antagonizing the New Yorkers and then getting them on his side as he very nearly pulled off a shocking win over Rafael Nadal in the final.

Now, the hunter has become the hunted, with Medvedev the No. 4 seed for the first Grand Slam of the year. But no matter the situation the Russian finds himself in, he seems able to deal with it. On a cool-ish Tuesday evening at the Australian Open, he looked right at home at Rod Laver Arena as he beat American Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round.

Even this time last year, Medvedev was relatively obscure, even suggesting that he would be happy if Grand Slams switched to best-of-three sets because he found the rhythms of best-of-five difficult to fathom.

That began to change when he reached the fourth round in Melbourne, taking a set off eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

But it was the two weeks at the US Open in New York that took Medvedev to another level, becoming the first of the Next Gen to reach a Grand Slam final. Not only that, it made him something of a celebrity, so much so that the next day he tried a bit of fancy dress just to get some time to himself.

"I had to wear a hoodie, sunglasses, still people recognize me," he said on the eve of the Australian Open. "I would look at myself in the mirror [and think] how can you recognize me? I cannot recognize me."

Everyone knows who he is now, though. And though he carries plenty of confidence into 2020 after his stellar year, he now has to deal with the pressure of expectation.

"After what I accomplished in New York, I didn't really think about it too much because I had a lot of tournaments after," Medvedev said. "[There will be] a lot of tournaments after the Australian Open.

"Of course, it felt different [in Melbourne] because that's the first time in my life I was stepping out on the center court in the first round of a Slam as a favorite. I played once against Stan [Wawrinka] in Wimbledon. That was some new feeling. Finally, it was a good feeling since I won. If I would have lost, it would not be good feeling."

Tiafoe reached the quarterfinals here last year, and when he hit back to take the second set and level the match, another big win looked possible. But Medvedev is so versatile these days, not just a brick wall, that he figured out a way to get through by changing the pace, trajectory and angles as he took Tiafoe out of his comfort zone. In the end, he was a pretty comfortable winner, even if he was not overly pleased with his performance.

"I think I have a lot of things to improve regarding today's match. Especially the serve, I was not happy at all with my serve," he said. "When I lost the second set, I knew I had to be more aggressive because he started pushing me all over the court . It worked well.

"Happy with the win because that's most important. First round of a Slam, never easy. Sometimes the most important is to really not show some crazy level or crazy shots, but just to win the match, get into the tournament.

"Finally the most important is to win, to just win the match, get into the second round, get the sensations of the court, of the atmosphere, everything. Usually later in the tournament everything goes better and better."

Drawn in the same half as Nadal, Medvedev would appear to have a straightforward draw in the early rounds. Pedro Martinez, a Spanish qualifier ranked 168th, is next. And though Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev are in his quarter, it would be a surprise, on form, if he does not get to the semifinals, where Nadal may well be waiting again.

Success has also raised the bar for Medvedev as to what might be possible. He was John McEnroe's pick, on the eve of the event, as the big threat to the Big Three of defending champion Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer.

Medvedev was honored by the words but said, "It's not as easy to do it as [they] say."

At the moment, though, Medvedev is making things look pretty easy.