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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, November 16, 2020

Creativity comes to court when Daniil Medvedev is operating on full rhythm.

A mischievous Medvedev threw everything at Alexander Zverev today—the underhand serve, some superb net play and a Marat Safin-esque leaping backhand winner on match point—posting a 6-3, 6-4 victory to post his first career ATP Finals win in London.

Medvedev: Underhand Serve Was Purpose Play 

Medvedev won 10 of 10 trips to net, saved five of six break points and blew Zverev’s mind with the no-look underhand serve while serving at a critical stage up 4-3, 30-all in the second set. It all added up to a milestone moment for Medvedev, who became the first Russian to win a singles match at the prestigious year-end event since 2009 champion Nikolay Davydenko.

It was Medvedev’s sixth straight win following his run to the Rolex Paris Masters title and puts him atop the Group Tokyo standings alongside world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who swept Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-2 in his opener earlier today.

"I can tell you being on the court that we played some unbelievable tennis in the first set, of course not counting the double faults, but there were some crazy intense points," Medvedev said. "And as I say, physically, not mentally, it was one of the most intense matches of my career, more sets than matches."

Truth be told, Zverev was his own worst enemy at times in this rematch of the Paris final clanking seven double faults, including double-faulting away a break and winning just four of 19 points played on his sporadic second serve.

"My serve was not quite there today," Zverev said. "All in all, it wasn't a good match for me. I think since the restart of the season, it was one of the worst ones.

"But, yeah, credit to Daniil. He did what he needed to do. I mean, the underarm serve paid off for him. Yeah, I mean, great job to him."

Nine days ago, the pair squared off in the Rolex Paris Masters final. Medvedev surged through seven straight games—including winning three games at love—streaking past Zverev 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 to capture his first title of 2020 in Paris.

Tennis Express

This was Medvedev’s third win in his last four meetings with Zverev, who still leads their head-to-head series 5-3.

"Of course Paris was really important. Just played each other a week ago, and I think for the continuance it stays there a little bit that I won," Medvedev said. "Of course it's not always the case, because I think we even see sometimes when somebody gets out from quallies, beats a guy, then loses to him as a lucky loser.

"But still it's more about the whole tournament than Paris. I was playing really good. I found some of my marks, which helped me to get through the match today, which was very important.

Both guys looked tight at the outset.

Showing an explosive burst, Medvedev was off the mark quickly for a short volley and rifled a pass into Zverev’s hip in the opening game. Lassoing a loopy running forehand long, Medvedev followed with a meek double fault into net gifting the break in the opening game.

Zverev’s serving frailty was exposed immediately as he spit up three straight double faults, barely missed a fourth and sent a backhand long to give back the break.

The jitters continued as Medvedev saved three break points, including a scrambling 29-shot rally with the Russian spending several shots up at net.

That physical exchange left Medvedev sucking air as he sprayed a forehand to face a fourth break point. Medvedev fought off a fifth break point with a smash working through a tough nine-minute hold denying all five break points for the first hold of the evening.

Six games into the opening set, Zverev was under pressure again facing three break points. The German saved the second break point with a fantastic full stretch forehand drop volley and denied the third on a Medvedev error. Zverev floated his fifth double fault to face a fourth break point then tapped his sixth double fault off the top of the tape.

Service struggles gave Medvedev his second break for a 4-2 lead.

The medium-pace of the blue hard court sets the stage for length rallies. Medvedev dug in from love-30 down and whipped a series of crosscourt forehands consolidating for 5-2.

Medvedev zapped his first ace of the night down the middle snatching a 51-minute set that saw sloppy stretches from both before the Russian cleaned up his act. Medvedev saved five of six break points and won 11 of 13 points played on Zverev’s shaky second serve.

Sixty-seven minutes into the match, Zverev showed his movement nudging a fine full-stretch volley for a game point. That creative aggression helped the fifth seed hold for a 3-2 second-set lead.

Two games later, Medvedev caught a break when his pass ricocheted off the top of the tape into Zverev’s body. A stinging drive earned Medvedev two break points. On the second break point, Medvedev lofted in a moon ball, followed with a mis-hit forehand then belted a flatter forehand that provoked Zverev into rattling a forehand into net.

The first break of the second set put the fourth-ranked Russian up 4-3.

Deadlocked at 30-all, a clever Medvedev surprised Zverev with the underhand serve, exploiting the German’s deeper return positioning. Medvedev won the point then banged a big serve out wide to confirm the break for 5-3.

"Here it was just in the moment," Medvedev said. "I saw him really far. I was thinking, okay, where do I go? And I felt like, okay, at this moment I don't see an obvious choice and I had the ball really close to my racquet. I'm, like, he's so far. He's going to have trouble having it. And he had trouble."

Zverev, who has known Medvedev since childhood, said his deep return positioning made it the right play.

"I think it was part of the tactic for him. I was quite far back," Zverev said. "It paid off. What can I say? It worked well for him."

Medvedev served out a 90-minute victory at love banging a leaping backhand crosscourt—a shot that would make his ATP Cup captain Marat Safin proud.

Raisiing his 2020 record to 24-10, Medvedev will try to sustain his roll against the top-ranked Djokovic in his next round-robin match.

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to match with Novak, because I think in these conditions we have here we can have a lot of long rallies," Medvedev said. "We are both going to run well. I like to play against Novak. We have tough matches, you know, I think. Looking forward to it."


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