RTF rule the world once again

The star-studded Russian Tennis Federation squad lived up to their billing to score a third Davis Cup crown.

Russia davis cup team victory 2021©Paul Zimmer / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It took Andrey Rublev a matter of seconds to pop the cork to start chasing teammates with a fountain of champagne.

The Russian Tennis Federation had just lifted the Davis Cup trophy (not the whole thing it’s incredibly heavy) for the third time.

The whole support staff joined in the jubilant celebrations to cap a mesmerising fortnight from the star-studded RTF squad, spearheaded by world No.2 Daniil Medvedev and world No.5 Andrey Rublev.

"It feels amazing but I am more happy for the team than for myself," stated Medvedev, who didn’t drop a set throughout the Finals.

"It is never easy to come at the end of the season, but it was the best two weeks of my career."

Mission accomplished for Medvedev 

That’s some statement from the 25-year-old, who triumphed at the US Open back in September for his maiden Grand Slam title. 

Medvedev strutted through his first four Davis Cup Finals singles matches, before a compelling 7-6(7), 6-2 victory over Marin Cilic ended Croatia’s superb run at the last hurdle. 

An archetypal muted celebration from Medvedev, but this meant a lot to the Russian, boosting his mightily impressive tennis C.V. 

It completes a journey from his childhood in national colours to dealing with great expectations for a golden generation. 

“Really important, otherwise I would not be here. We have an amazing team. I like to play for my country. It's not an easy season. Some players didn't want to come here, and I completely understand why. The season is so long. Australia is coming, like, straight after this,” continued the world No.2.

Daniil Medvedev Davis Cup 2021©Paul Zimmer/FFT

“I remember I was practising with one player, he already retired like four years ago, in Cincinnati. I think at this moment me, I maybe was 30 in the world or 50. I was just up-and-coming. He asked how old I am, how old is Rublev and Karen (Khachanov). He looked at his coach and said, ‘How many Davis Cup you think these guys going to win?’

“After his words, we lost quite a few matches. Two years ago the guys without me were really close, one tie-break away from being in the final… It was not easy to break this Davis Cup. 

“I'm really happy for our generation, we played in the junior Davis Cups together, and we managed to have the chance to lift the trophy. It’s simply amazing and really important for all of us.”

Time to dominate?

Captain Shamil Tarpischev, the longest-serving Davis Cup captain of all-time, oversaw his 101st tie in charge during the final in Madrid. He’d guided RTF to their previous two crowns in 2002 and 2006 (Rublev and Khachanov were there in the stands in Moscow as kids!), coaxing the best out of the likes of Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

The current crop are also rapidly building their own legacy and Tarpischev is spoilt by the talent at his disposal. Medvedev, Rublev, Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev and Khachanov all sit within the Top 30.  

The quality and depth mean RTF could truly dominate for years to come. Check out this Roll of Honour that boosts this perspective. RTF have won the ATP Cup, topped the medal table at Tokyo 2020, won the Billie Jean King Cup and the junior Davis Cup this season. 

Their on-court quality is astonishing, combined with their evident camaraderie and unity as a team. Karatsev, Khachanov and Evgeny Donskoy barely played, however, throughout the event they were all joking, laughing and supporting as a quintet.  

United locker room the key

“We have to be together almost every day, eat together, have breakfast together, spend time together. This is something special that we are missing that we don't really have time to do. These kind of events, they give us this chance,” said Rublev, embracing the team spirit. 

“It's a great feeling because then you have a lot of memories. This is the most important thing.”

Rublev had a slightly more turbulent time on court than Medvedev. Still, the 24-year-old Moscow native was a crucial component, losing only one match to Feliciano Lopez in a group stage thriller. The world No.5 provided the platform for Medvedev to march RTF to victories. 

In the final, Rublev lost just two points on serve in the opening set to dictate against MVP candidate Borna Gojo. The Croatian, ranked 274 places below him, had prevailed past three Top 70 players at the Finals, but Rublev held his nerve 6-4 7-6 (5). 

“It’s true that I have a lot of pressure today because looks like I should win, the way the ranking is. But he was playing really great during all the event. He beat really great players,” reflected Rublev, becoming the 4th player to reach 20 Davis Cup wins in RTF colours.

“In general, for Daniil and for me was the most important to try to win singles because doubles was really, really tough for us. So, we were trying our best to give everything in both singles matches.”

Their best was brilliant.

The champagne showers encapsulate it all. The release of emotions and pressure, the prestige, the honour of triumphing for their flag. 

With this roster of players, this united squad have all the components to keep on popping bottles. Maybe a 2022 vintage will be bottled too?