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Daniil Medvedev: The Story of a Kid Who Stopped Dreaming

Coming from a very small country, I once had very big dreams of becoming a professional athlete. With the little resources available to me, I did what I could to reach my dreams. However, standing at only 5ft 3inches, that alley was too high to oop; (Yes, I’m talking about basketball).

I still love basketball very much. But I could no longer stomach the politicking.

Read Tennis Doubles: Does This Sport Deserve More Coverage?

Sadly, I mostly had myself to lean on; while I watched my peers, with similar talent, get all the attention. It was quite draining, mentally and emotionally, to pursue a passion so fervently, and with so little support compared to more popular peers. So this kid stopped dreaming. An all too frequent occurrence in athletes aspiring and striving to reach the top. Even high level professional athletes struggle with this; with constantly being passed over for their more glamorous peers.

Which leads to the story of Daniil Medvedev.

Daniil Medvedev: The Dream

In the 2022 Australian Open Finals post-match press conference, Medvedev told a story of a little kid who had big dreams of playing at the Grand Slams. Speaking on his junior experience he said, “I was just practising, playing some Russian tournaments, and of course you’re watching Grand Slams on the TV, big stars playing, fans supporting, and you dream of being there.”

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But sadly, things aren’t always as glamorous as one would imagine. Medvedev went on to speak about the time he lost to two French players at Roland Garros. In relation to that hardship he stated, “there are some moments in my career where I think this kid was doubting if he should continue to dream.”

Daniil Medvedev, the top Russian tennis player in the world with 13 singles titles to his name, including 1 Grand Slam title, is currently at his career high ranking of #2 and is one of the most dominant players of the new generation.

But what is the “new generation?”

New Generation vs Big Three

Essentially, the new generation is the group of players who have come after the Big Three of tennis; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Tennis’ Big Three; [from left to right] Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

The Big Three have dominated the sport throughout their careers since Federer first occupied the world #1 spot in 2004. Now there’s no doubt we fans love them. But perhaps we show too much love to the aforementioned legends and undervalue the younger talents, like Medvedev. And maybe it’s a fear of those younger talents dethroning the established superstars; that drives us to deride them.

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Daniil Medvedev vs Rafa Nadal

Daniil Medvedev
Medvedev (left) and Nadal, playing the 2022 Australian Open men’s singles Final

On Sunday 30th January, 2022, Daniil Medvedev faced Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open Finals. Nadal had a chance to create history by becoming the leader in Grand Slam titles in the men’s game, breaking the three-way tie with, you guessed it! – Federer and Djokovic, each having 20 Slam titles. The stadium was filled to the brim, not a single seat empty, and millions watched from all over the world, in anticipation of witnessing history. Of course, with history on the line, the crowd support was convincingly in Nadal’s favour. Daniil on the other hand, was looking to collect his second Grand Slam title.

Despite winning the first two sets and being up 2-0 in the third set, Daniil could not put the match away. With the crowd fully behind Nadal, willing him on, Nadal turned things around in the third set and didn’t look back from there. Nadal made one of the best comebacks of his career to eventually win the match in five sets, which lasted a whopping 5 hours and 24 minutes. History was created and fans celebrated. An eruption of cheers could be heard roaring through the stadium when that title-winning point had been played.

Why Daniil Medvedev Stopped Dreaming

Reflecting on the match, in the post-match press conference Medvedev said, “I was just talking about a few moments where the kid stopped dreaming and today was one of them.” Although he refused to give a reason for this, he reiterated, “the kid that was dreaming is not anymore in me after today, so it will be tougher to continue tennis [when it’s like this].”

Daniil Medvedev Aussie Open Final presser

Given that he mentioned the crowd’s disruptive behaviour and support, or lack thereof, over the years, I think he’s alluding to the importance of support to an athlete. It seems that when playing the “Big Three,” players are automatically the crowd’s enemy. In that match, despite being the top seed in the tournament, Nadal was clearly the crowd favourite, as the cheers on points won by Nadal were louder; almost deafening, compared to those won by Medvedev.

I think support is a major driving force in an athlete’s success, whether that support comes from those close to you like your team, family and friends, or from the crowd. With broken spirits Medvedev said, “from now on I’m playing for myself, for my family, to provide [for] my family, for people that trust in me. Of course, for all the Russians because I feel a lot of support there.”

Notably absent from his list were non-Russian fans.

Taking another shot at the fans, he said; “if there’s a tournament on hard court in Moscow, I’m gonna go there even if I miss Wimbledon or Roland Garros.”

And who can blame him?

Medvedev vs Djokovic

Daniil Medvedev
Medvedev taunts crowd by encouraging boos directed at him at US Open

This year’s AO match against Nadal was not the only time Daniil Medvedev faced the crowd as well as his opponent on court. At the 2021 US Open Finals, he played Novak Djokovic in another potentially history-making match. That year, Djokovic had won all three of the previous Slams and had a chance to complete the Calendar Slam; which is winning all four majors in the same year. Once again, the stadium was packed in support of Djokovic to witness history; but Medvedev became the villain when the match swung in his favour.

Serving for it, the crowd began to jeer Medvedev, trying to disturbing him. Nonetheless, Djokovic fell short of this achievement and, although overshadowed, Medvedev gained his first Grand Slam title after three failed attempts losing to Nadal and Djokovic.

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev after winning his first Grand Slam Title at the US Open in 2021

Recounting his journey climbing the rankings he stated, “I remember a lot of talk about the young generation should do better,” and “People saying, we really want [the] young generation to go for it, to be better, to be stronger.”

But no longer believes this fan rhetoric, after his bad experiences. “Well, I guess these people were lying, because yeah; every time I stepped on the court in these big matches; I really didn’t see many people who wanted me to win.”

Conclusion

This is the sad reality for many athletes at all levels, all over the world. – Like a certain young basketball player from Saint Lucia.

Favouritism in sport has always existed. People will always support their side in sports; but when the support is so lopsided, it can be very overwhelming and discouraging for athletes to step out on the playing field and compete. Particularly when it persists for such a prolonged period of time.

In Medvedev’s case, it was the accumulative feeling of being the ‘bête noire’ that has seemingly left a bitter taste, for the sport and its fans, in his mouth. But just like a good Cappuccino, let’s hope the sweetness of those hard-fought victories, outweighs the bitterness!

And to that kid who stopped dreaming; we may have nightmares sometimes; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream again.


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By Cleo

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