Fearless Medvedev rising to clay challenge

The No.5 seed has former French favourite Gilles Simon in his coaching corner

Daniil Medvedev, second round, Roland-Garros 2024©Loic Wacziak / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

He might be a self-proclaimed "hard-court specialist", but Daniil Medvedev fears nobody in the Roland-Garros title race.

The world No.5 was cruising 6-1, 5-0 up on Miomir Kecmanovic on Thursday, when the Serb unfortunately had to retire on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. 

Medvedev reached a quarter-final in Paris back in 2021, as well as suffering five first-round exits too. It might be a mixed bag of results, but that doesn't alter the 28-year-old's champion mentality.

"I don't think I fear anyone, to be honest. What you fear is that the guy is going to play everything on the line, and that's when they can beat you," declared the 2021 US Open winner.

"Every time I advance to the second round at Roland-Garros, I play well after that. That's what I'm going to try and do this year."

He was only on court for 55 minutes, but Medvedev was in scintillating form, almost toying with Kecmanovic's court positioning. He landed 27 of 31 first serves, found eight passing shots and seven drop shots.

For someone with so much versatility - such fluid yet mechanical movement - it's a perennial puzzle why the world No.5 hasn't had more success on the terre battue. Out of his 20 titles, claimed in 20 different cities, only one of those triumphs has been on clay. It was a pretty significant one, having ruled the Rome Masters last May.

"I don't like footwork on clay, that's for sure. There are many reasons for that but I think this is because I am very light, not heavy enough on my legs. In Roland-Garros, this is fine but on other types of clay, I can't stop sliding. So, I slide well but I keep sliding while the ball goes the other way. It was quite frustrating honestly to play like this," explained the world No.5.

"On hard surfaces, I have one of the best footwork on tour whereas on clay, the rally is over as soon as my opponent hits a good shot. It was a bit hard mentally to accept this, but in the last years I managed to work on this: sliding, moving and having the right mindset on clay.

"I'm not going to say that I like it but I don't hate it. I'm trying my best and my best is sometimes good, even on clay."

Daniil Medvedev, deuxième tour, Roland-Garros 2024©Loïc Wacziak / FFT

One factor helping mould Medvedev's clay mindset has been the arrival of former world No.6 Gilles Simon into the coaching setup in February. Simon's expertise compliments his work with long-standing coach Gilles Cervara.

"It’s a bit harder to handle because when I say 'Gilles,' they don't know who I'm talking to. I've tried to say 'Simon' at some point but it's a bit weird," mused Medvedev.

"It's been going well. At 28, it's difficult for him to bring something really new to me. He's not going to change my forehand or my backhand. But it's always good to have small adjustments on some shots, some tactical choices.

"I want to improve day in day out. He has the same mindset. He is a good fit in our team because we all want me to perform and be at a top level. I think we are going to work together for a long time but let's see."

Heading into the last 32, the No.5 seed will take on the winner between in-form Argentine Mariano Navone or Tomas Machac, who reached the Geneva final last week off the back of defeating world No.1 Novak Djokovic in three sets.

"I was feeling good on the court. I'm really happy with myself and looking forward, because for sure the tougher the opponent, the tougher the score, and the tougher the match itself," stated Medvedev.

"Tomas is playing good at the moment. He's going up the rankings, playing aggressive, hitting the ball well, having good victories, final last week, so a lot of confidence.

"But Navone also playing very good. I'm definitely going to watch their match, because I don't know too much about both of their games, and get ready for the winner."

Daniil Medvedev, deuxième tour, Roland-Garros 2024©Loïc Wacziak / FFT