Medvedev updates relationship status with clay

 - Dan Imhoff

Russian No.2 seed books a maiden spot in the Roland-Garros fourth round with victory over Reilly Opelka

Daniil Medvedev, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Daniil Medvedev couldn’t go so far as to call his connection to clay an up-and-down relationship.

For that to exist it requires some high points and until Roland-Garros 2021, the self-deprecating Russian is the first to admit there hasn’t been too many of those in the past few years on the red dirt.

You wouldn’t know it the way he picked apart the 6ft 11in Reilly Opelka’s game on Friday.

Medvedev’s 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 32nd seed sealed a maiden fourth-round appearance in Paris, the first time he had strung together three straight match-wins on clay since reaching the Barcelona Open final more than two years ago.

The 25-year-old – a finalist at both hard-court majors – isn’t getting too far ahead of himself just yet, but is happy to let the good times roll in this complicated relationship.

“The beliefs, they can change,” Medvedev said. “I don't know. When I was young I never ate fish, like I hated it. Now I love tuna, but raw tuna. Talking about things I hate but I'm good at, probably there is none. I like the things I'm good at.

“This year I'm enjoying myself in Roland-Garros. I don't hide it, I'm really enjoying. Let's see. It's the last clay tournament this year. Let's see how it's going to go next year.”

Daniil Medvedev - Troisième tour / Roland-Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Medvedev had beamed in surprise at just how at home he felt with Roland-Garros’s red clay beneath his soles, after practising for his opening outing against Alexander Bublik.

“I'm feeling that here, at least this year with this weather, with these balls, I can play like on hard courts," Medvedev said before he landed his first win in five Roland-Garros campaigns.

Shrewd mindset, but on an overcast, heavier day on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Friday, he was singing a different tune when broken for 3-1 in the opening set.

The 23-year-old Opelka had only ventured to a Grand Slam third round once before, on the grass two years ago at Wimbledon, where his fearsome serves may as well be catapulted from a tree.

Like Medvedev, though, he had struck a vein of form on his least likely surface. A breakout result came in Rome last month when he notched his maiden Masters 1000 semi-final to snap a five-match losing streak on the terre battue.

After looking the goods early against the No.2 seed in Paris, however, Opelka was quickly brought undone. Medvedev reeled off nine of the next 10 games and never looked back.

“It's definitely never an easy draw to play Reilly. Of course, indoor hard courts would be tougher than outdoor clay courts,” he said. “In these conditions, even guessing one side, I could still get back to another side if I saw the serve coming the other way. That's what usually you don't have this chance on a faster surface.

“Definitely happy with my game and my return today because I actually hit more aces than him. That's a great achievement.”

There is a shot at revenge in the round of 16 when the Russian meets Cristian Garin, the 22nd seed. The Chilean ensured two of the four American men through to the third round were sent packing when he denied Marcos Giron in four sets.

“Great player. We played in Madrid [last month]. I feel like same again,” Medvedev said. “Here I can play like in hard court. I think that's what's going to make me play well. Not be a favourite, but at least know that he needs to play well to beat me… That's the most important.”

The ledger is split, one apiece, but a maiden Roland-Garros quarter-final is on the line for both and this is already shaping up as a different Medvedev, one who appears at ease and entering a more prosperous stage in his relationship with clay.