Medvedev cracks the clay code in Paris

The Russian breaks through for his first main-draw victory at Roland-Garros

Daniil Medvedev, Roland Garros 2021, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

It may not be love at first sight, but Daniil Medvedev’s relationship with the red clay is officially improving.

The second-seeded Russian, who recently compared chasing tennis balls on the clay to frolicking like “a dog in the dirt”, appears to be opening his heart to the terre battue in Paris, where he notched his maiden Roland-Garros victory, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 over the delightfully unpredictable Alexander Bublik of Kazahkstan. 

"History made!" Medvedev tweeted, perhaps a bit sarcastically, after the victory.

Whether Medvedev, who will face American Tommy Paul in round two, is making light of himself on social media or dazzling fans with his casual brilliance on the court, there's no denying that the Russian is pure box office.

The French faithful seem eager to get on his bandwagon as well. It isn't just Medvedev's daring tennis or underdog mentality that appeals to the Parisian sensibility, he also speaks fluent French, thanks to years of training in the south of France and the tutelage of his French coach, Gilles Cervara.

"Until you are playing a French player in Roland-Garros, which is not easy - I had it three times - it's always a benefit for me," Medvedev said of his honorary French status. "A lot of French people going to support me. It's always nice. Today was a really nice atmosphere. I felt like people were going for me."

Famously shut out of the winner’s circle in his four previous appearances in Paris, the No.2 seed hinted during media day on Friday that he may be ready for an upside surprise this year in Paris. 

“I have to say coming here was my first practice yesterday, I was playing amazing so far,” a hopeful Medvedev told reporters. "I really like the conditions here so far, and looking forward to make a great tournament, to be honest.” 

On a sunny Monday afternoon on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Medvedev made good on his words by taking apart Bublik’s game with his his own brand of clay-court aggression. 

Daniil Medvedev, Roland Garros 2021, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Medvedev’s numbers tell the story of a player that has found his hitting range for the first time in Paris. He cracked 28 winners against just 16 unforced errors against Bublik, and was able to win in straight sets despite making just 48 per cent of his first serves. 

Medvedev, a two-time Grand Slam finalist, claims to love the conditions in play in Paris, and he's developed a nice feel for the balls as well. He says they are helping him hit clean.

"As soon as I came here these balls are much lighter, they go faster in the air, so that's why I can make them also drop faster before the baseline and stuff like this," said the 25-year-old. "I did 16 unforced errors today, four of them were double-faults, so it's [actually] 12. This is how I can make damage in slams and can win great tournaments."

Medvedev's hopes of making a run at Roland-Garros suddenly don't seem so far-fetched. The 6'6" Russian has never been one to sugarcoat his chances on the surface, but after his win over Bublik he is singing a sweet tune.

"I feel really hopeful," he said. "You could see it today in the match, I'm feeling that here, at least this year with this weather, with these balls, I can play like on hard courts. It doesn't feel different than Australian Open for me coming into this tournament."

With so much going for him, Medvedev now believes it is going to take an inspired effort to take him out.

"If I lose here in Roland-Garros it's probably going to be because my opponent will play really good," he said. "I feel very confident, I move well, slide well. You could see I think he made maybe only one maybe dropshot winner. So I'm feeling great."