ATP Halle Final Preview: Daniil Medvedev vs Hubert Hurkacz

Read our ATP Halle final preview to learn Hubert Hurkacz's key strategies.
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Without surprising too many people, Medvedev and Hurkacz meet in the ATP Halle Open final, in a rematch their clash in the fourth round at last year Wimbledon. This will be their fifth meeting in the last year, with the head-to-head tied at two wins apiece, and Hurkacz having won the lone grass match in five. Here in Halle, both have faced reasonable competition, with Hurkacz especially impressing as he came through Felix Auger-Aliassime and Nick Kyrgios in the last two rounds. Medvedev, for his part, against somewhat easier competition, has not dropped a set. It figures to be a quality match that could go either way, but Daniil Medvedev is #1 in the world until someone can prove he’s not.

ATP Halle Final Preview

Daniil Medvedev vs Hubert Hurkacz

This is like a higher-quality version of the London semifinal between Marin Cilic and Filip Krajinovic, with Medvedev playing the role of the attacking Cilic, and Hurkacz preferring defense like Krajinovic. Both players should be in their element in terms of the rhythm of the exchanges, and it will be a matter of who’s game is sharper. Can Medvedev move Hurkacz around the court, press the corners, and hit big through the court without piling up errors?

Oscar Otte played some good tennis in the semis, but his best was only good enough for a first set tiebreak. Medvedev’s assault and energy is relentless. Can Hurkacz hold off the attack and generate mistakes, and assert himself with his forehand when he gets an open look? His form against Kyrgios looked very good, and it will be required to lift the trophy.

Serving Big is a Given

First of all, we can expect a big serving game. Neither has an advantage here, both possessing huge first serves, though I think Medvedev has a better second serve. Neither is at a disadvantage either, both being capable defensively. Medvedev is more comfortable on the attack, however, and is less likely in that regard to make a mistake pressing into his opponent’s second serve, which he will have to do in order to try to break as he won’t get many opportunities on the first serve. (Hurkacz won about 90% of his first serves against Kyrgios and fired 27 aces.) As for Hurkacz’s ability to handle Medvedev’s serve—well, he just came through one of the best servers of his generation in Nick Kyrgios.

Keys to Victory From a Challenger Tour Player

A template for how to beat Medvedev was provided by the most unlikely of players, in world #205 Tim van Rijthoven just last week in Den Bosch. Medvedev managed to take just five games off the low-ranked Dutchman, who brought nothing particularly extraordinary to the table, while playing clean and slow tennis. In fact, in any other match, van Rijthoven’s frequent use of backhand slices would have been considered over-reliance, and of the kind that betrays a suspect backhand and which prevents players from doing any damage at the top of the sport.

But it seemed to be that very tactic that caused Medvedev so much trouble. The slice takes most of the pace off the ball, and it keeps it low. Medvedev likes to hit against pace, and he is tall with a flat forehand, meaning he does better if the ball bounces at about mid-level, because he doesn’t put a lot of spin on his shots. Therefore, he has trouble keeping low-hit balls in-bounds. Mistakes piled up so much off of van Rijthoven’s slow-playing that Medvedev managed just a single game in the final set.

It is hard to imagine someone playing the slice that well unless they were used to it as a means to cover-up an uncomfortable backhand, but Hurkacz may want to adopt that strategy if he is in trouble. After his quarterfinal against Felix Auger-Aliassime, Hurkacz confessed that he was guessing a lot on the serve, powerful as Felix hits it, but that he changed tactics after frequently guessing wrong. He began to look at the shot clock, and if it was an odd number he would go one way, if even he would go the other! So he is not averse to trying desperate and even unreasonable measures when he finds himself in a hard position. He should keep the slice in his back pocket.

Furthermore, van Rijthoven made good use of the drop shot. The drop shot is always a good strategy on grass, and if either player can hit it with confidence, it would be a savvy tool in this match. Both players move very well for their height, but they will likely be standing further back due to the powerful opposing forehand hitting at them, and are not so quick that they would be able to get to a well-placed and well-timed drop shot. Each has a good disguise off the two-handed backhand, and power enough from that wing to threaten their opponent to stay back, and to open the door for the fake. I would expect this more from Medvedev, who seems to be the more creative of the two, but Hurkacz may want to brandish it a few times and see if it’s working.

Medvedev’s Familiar Key

Medvedev’s key to winning rallies is, of course, his forehand. If it is working well—as it usually is—it is very difficult to keep up with, and he adds to it a backhand that is also powerful but even more accurate, and it’s a dangerous weapon down the line. Hurkacz tends to put the ball back in the middle and wait for mistakes or short balls from his opponent, but Medvedev (like any #1) is not likely to make mistakes with those kinds of opportunities. Maybe he could be induced into some errors if Hurkacz put something different into the ball, like spins or changes of pace, or if he kept opponent’s off guard with an Alcaraz-esque drop shot; but strict counterpunching almost always falls flat against the world’s best. Watch for Medvedev’s forehand to dictate this match.

If Hurkacz is serving well, he can win this match. When he is on, he plays very crisp, intelligent tennis, and overwhelms people with forehand and serve power while frustrating them with defensive skill. However, Medvedev brings so much pressure, and leaves so little room open on defense, that Hurkacz will have to make some special shots to overcome him. The slice and the drop shot might be those shots, but either way, this should be a high-quality match with heavy serving and exciting rallies.

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