If you’re into shock therapy, the 2021 tennis season is just your kind of thing.
The supposedly unbeatable claymeister Nadal didn’t even reach the finals of the French Open. Naomi Osaka is on sabbatical. Serena crashed out of Wimbledon in the first round and sadly we haven’t seen much of her since, except at the Met Gala and on TV ads. An 18-year-old had a panic attack at Wimbledon (that would be high school grad Emma Raducanu)and then beat a 106-pound Canadian, Leylah Fernandez, to win the US Open.
Of course, for seven months there was one thing that wasn’t shocking at all – Mr. “show us the way” Nole. Djokovic swept to victories in Melbourne, Paris and London – and it seemed he’d capture the Golden Slam by winning in Tokyo and New York.
But forget it. Shock therapy is the go-to remedy for tennis this year.
At the Olympics, Djokovic hurled his racket, lost two matches in a row and left Japan sans medals. Still, we imagined he’d capture glory at the US Open. But a 6’ 6” Russian, who’d been a New York villain in 2019, shocked Djokovic and punched history in the gut.
Danill Medvedev won his first Slam. The 25-year-old, who also won in Toronto and reached the Cincy semis, was the No. 1 seed in Indian Wells. And, in a tourney without Novak, Roger, Rafa or defending champ Dominic Thiem, Danill was the clear favorite.
On cue, Medvedev dismissed Mackie McDonald in 73 minutes and downed Serb Filip Krajinovic in straight sets. In the fourth round he faced Grigor Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian with the beautiful backhand, the man they called “Baby Fed,” who long dated Maria Sharapova, was once seen as the game’s next great star.
He had some notable wins, reached three Slam semifinals and became No. 3 in 2017. Yet a marquee victory eluded him. He’s had a wonderful career, but the 30-year-old became emblematic of many who could not break through in the era of the Big 3.
No shame there. Still, the incredible 6’ 3” athlete, who stayed in the Coachella Valley through much of the COVID crisis, saw his ranking dip to No. 78. This year he made it to the Australian Open quarters, but struggled with injuries and then just won just two Grand Slam matches.
Dimitrov lost in straight sets to Medvedev in Cincinnati and, here in the desert, he had to play the Russian in the fourth round. Ranked No. 2 in the world , Medvedev is considered by many to be the best hard court player in the world. “The past couple of seasons,” said Jim Courier, “He’s been astonishingly good. And this year he cemented it.” Twelve of Daniil’s 13 titles have come on hard courts, and he’d beaten Grigor three times in a row.
Not surprisingly, Daniil was on cruise control today as he used his seamless defense and uncanny ability to pounce to go up a set and two breaks, 6-4, 4-1. On hard courts Daniil often seems impenetrable. He’d won 44 straight times after winning the first set.
The quickest big man in tennis history likes chess, and surely would soon score a quick checkmate. Courier noted that Dimitrov, the No. 23 seed, “was pretty close to packing it up and going back to Europe.”
But, despite being just two games from victory and having won 18 of his last 19 matches in North America, Daniil suffered a shocking loss of form as he unleashed an inexplicable torrent of errors. His serve faltered terribly, his focus wavered. He was hardly please with the slow gritty court. He looked to his small support team and, after an untimely double fault, smashed his Tecnifibre racket.
Meanwhile, Dimitrov called on his many attributes – athleticism, a mean slice backhand, experience, patience and a weaponized forehand to break five of Daniil’s next six service games. Grigor later noted, “I just felt something at 1-4 and calmed myself down and started to make better decisions and to control the pace of the game…Little by little I was just trying to stay in the game, stay in the moment, and really fight through every opportunity. I really had to go for it.”
As the match slipped away from Medvedev, one wondered: was Daniil taking a kneel?
Dimitrov prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to score his first win over a top 2 player since 2016. The Tennis Channel’s Brett Haber noted, “This has been a bizarre capitulation from one of the top players in the game.”
Broadcaster Michael Catlin added, “I don’t get speechless very often, but I don’t believe a US Open champion who was up a set and two breaks just lost.” Then again, this year, shocking results have hardly been shocking.
GOOD NEWS FOR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Rancho Palos Verdes’ Taylor Fritz upset No. 14 Jannik Sinner to reach the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, his best Masters performance so far. His 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Italian was buoyed by a raucous home crowd. Taylor now has beaten two considerable Italians in a row: Wimbleon finalist Matteo Berrettini and Sinner. Fritz, now ranked No. 39, next faces Alexander Zverev who is seeking his third Masters title of the year..
RUUD COMMENTARY: Jim Courier asked Brett Haber, “Do you want to say it or should I?” “Say it,” said Haber. Courier replied, “This is the Ruud awakening.” Haber replied, “Well, Genie Bouchard went there this morning and said ‘Casper the Ghost,’ so it’s all in play.”