World #2 Daniil Medvedev returned to the tour last week in Geneva, after a small operation on a hernia left him on the sidelines for six weeks. However, his first match on the clay in 2022 did not go how he would have liked, losing in straight sets to French veteran Richard Gasquet.
This was not exactly the ideal preparation for Roland Garros, but Medvedev has made no secret of his dislike for the clay in the past. Last year the Russian described the orange tennis courts as a ‘bad surface’, when playing in Madrid.
Medvedev’s dislike for the surface was supported by the statistics going into the second Grand Slam of the year, having only a 40% winning record on clay. Before last year, the 26 year-old had not won a match at Roland Garros on his four previous attempts.
Why does Medvedev struggle so much on the clay?
At 6ft5, Medvedev is one of the taller players on tour and his stature is not particularly suited to the surface, something that he admits himself. Clay courts require lots of fast changes in direction, and the US Open champion’s height heavily prevents him from being able to do this.
Medvedev is an extremely flat hitter of the ball, which is very effective on hard courts, hence why all 13 of his titles have come on the surface.
On the clay courts this type of hitting is much less effective, as the surface dramatically slows down the flat shots and effectively neutralises Medvedev’s power. He is therefore winning a lot less free points on his serve and returns.
The Russian’s Rejuvenated confidence at Roland Garros
Despite all the hurdles Medvedev has faced on his least favourite surface, he does seem to be improving every year, especially at Roland Garros.
In 2021, he finally broke a mental barrier and won his first match at the Parisian Grand Slam event, and ended up making it all the way to the quarter-finals. He eventually lost to the runner-up, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Although he did not make the comeback he would have liked in Geneva, Medvedev has made an impressive start to his Roland Garros campaign in 2022. He has made it to the second week in Paris again, beating Facundo Bagnis, Laslo Djere and Miomir Kecmanovic, all without dropping a set.
None of these opponents are pushovers, with the win over Kecmanovic particularly impressive, as the Serb has been having a very good year.
The ever charismatic Russian seems more at ease than ever on the dirt, and even seemed surprised himself after his third round win.
He expressed these feelings to the Tennis Channel, “Before the match I never thought I could honestly win with this score. I managed to do everything exceptionally well today. It’s rare to say after a match we can say how good we played.”
Medvedev has been ruthless in his trio of wins so far, and has evidently been working on his movement, hitting some delightful passing shots.
The #2 seed is by no means expected to win his second Grand Slam over the next week or so, but he does find himself on the better half of the draw.
The three favourites for the title, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, all find themselves on the same side of the draw. Medvedev is away from them all and would only meet one of them if he made it to the final.
The Russian’s biggest threat to making the final will probably be the man who beat him last year in Tsitispas. But there is still a long way to go before he can even start considering that, with his fourth round clash with former US Open champion Marin Cilic approaching.
If Medvedev defeats the tricky Croat, he will match his Roland Garros performance last year. This is more crucial than ever for Russian and Belarusian players, as they have been banned from Wimbledon and all other LTA events taking place in the build-up to the grass court major.
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