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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, June 6, 2021

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Bad blood could boil when Daniil Medvedev meets Stefanos Tsitsipas in a Roland Garros quarterfinal clash that's a rematch of the AO semifinals.

Photo credit: Roland Garros Facebook

Roland Garros' red clay could bubble with bad blood in a blockbuster quarterfinal clash.

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev deconstructed Cristian Garin 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 setting up a highly-anticipated quarterfinal vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas.

More: Federer Withdraws From Roland Garros

Monte-Carlo champion Tsitsipas stormed through six of the last seven games sweeping Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 rolling into his second straight Roland Garros quarterfinal appearance.

The fifth-seeded Greek exerted his all-court acumen winning 21 of 29 trips to net and denying five of six break points in an impressive victory over Carreno Busta.

Aside from 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who are on a collision course for a semifinal showdown, Tsitsipas has produced the highest-quality clay-court tennis of the season. Tsitispas rides an eight-match clay-court winning streak into his 10th quarterfinal in 11 tournaments this season.

Mixing his dynamic attacking style with some exceptional defense, Tsitsipas raised his record to an ATP-best 37-8 on the season, including a Tour-best 20-3 record on red clay. Now comes his biggest test of the tournament as Tsitsipas plays for his first career clay-court win over Medvedev to reach a second straight Roland Garros semifinal.

"He does serve extremely well, I have to say," Tsitsipas said of Medvedev. "He has improved over the years with his serve. This is going to be something that I will have to face.

"Of course, myself playing well, I feel like I don't have to think against who I'm facing or not, I just have to play my game, let the rest be witnessed."

Meanwhile, Medvedev has spent this fortnight completely rebranding himself as a legitimate clay contender on the Roland Garros red clay that had long been a sinkhole in his accomplished career.

Winless in four prior Roland Garros appearances, Medvedev was struggling for confidence so badly on dirt as recently as last month in Rome he candidly called himself out during his three-set loss to compatriot Aslan Karatsev.

"What can I do? I play good but no chance on this surface,” Medvedev said at one point before jokingly asking ATP supervisor Gerry Armstrong to put him out of his dirt misery.

“Gerry please, disqualify me,” Medvedev joked during the Rome loss. “I don’t want to be here. It’s dangerous for everybody.”

Weeks later, the world No. 2 has regained his confidence and rebranded himself as a dangerous opponent. Medvedev avenged his Madrid loss to Garin last month and more importantly is now playing with purpose and aggression.

"Definitely what I learned, that I can move really well on clay," Medvedev said. "For this I need to have good shots. If you don't have good shots, good players on clay, they start to move you all around the court and you have no chance to get back into the point. That's what was happening in many tournaments many times.

"As I say, here I'm able with these balls, with these conditions, to make shots that not going to let my opponent attack me straightaway. Then I can take control of the game and be a great mover on clay. That's one part that I learned."

The 25-year-old Russian's Russian's flat strikes, ability to bend his backhand into all areas and expansive reach have all been assets on this Roland Garros clay that several players say is playing faster than recent years. Medvedev can be maddening because his style is so unique—and he's 11th on the ATP Tour in return games won and ninth on Tour in service games won this season.

While Tsitsipas has clearly shown sharper form throughout this clay campaign and is fourth on the ATP in holding serve this season, that may not matter much to Medvedev, who has dominated the Greek winning six of their seven meetings, including a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 triumph in their lone clay-court meeting at the 2019 Monte-Carlo.

This quarterfinal of titanic young talents is a rematch of the Australian Open semifinals where Medvedev mauled Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 as the Greek was thoroughly depleted after fighting back from two sets down to topple Nadal 3-6, 2-6 ,7-6(4), 6-4, 7-5 in the Melbourne quarterfinals.

All-court artist Tsitsipas owns more shots than the 6'6" Medvedev, but the tough-minded Russian is not only one of tennis' top thinkers he has dominated this match-up because of his serving prowess and his ability to exert his expansive reach on passing shots. After falling to the Russian at the Australian Open, Tsitsipas rated Medvedev's serve as equal to the elite.

"Let me tell you that he's a player who has unlocked pretty much everything in the game. It's like he's reading the game really well," Tsitsipas said in Melbourne. "He has this amazing serve which I would describe close to John Isner's serve. And then he has an amazing baseline which makes it extremely difficult. So even if you return the serve, you don't guarantee that you're going to win the point. You have to really work hard for it." 

Tennis Express

The question is: Can Tsitsipas, who rallied from a set down to topple Isner in the third round, put enough returns in play, successfully execute his attacking style and employ his versatility to drag Medvedev out of his comfort zone behind the baseline and reverse a lopsided rivalry?

And can Medvedev continued to exert his mental and tactical edge on Tsitsipas and sustain his career-best Roland Garros run?

Medvedev, like Tsitsipas, has won 12 of 13 sets he's played in Paris, and has added motivation of knowing a deep run in Paris could help him close the gap on Djokovic in his quest for the world No. 1 ranking.

Though Medvedev made history as the first man other than Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer or Andy Murray to reach world No. 2 since Lleyton Hewitt was ranked No. 2 in July 2005, the Russian still sports an ignominious 15-20 career clay-court mark on his worst surface. Still, every man still standing in the bottom half of the draw has hope of reaching the final as Nadal and Djokovic reside in the top half.

"Having [Nadal and Djokovic] on the other part of the draw, I think me, Tsitsipas, Zverev, we are all happy in a way because we know we can make final without seeing them, then get the chance to beat them in the final, which is the best chance possible," Medvedev said. "Especially talking about Rafa, he won 13 times here. He barely loses a set. The further you meet him, the better. Maybe somebody can try to beat him before, it's always good for you, I think.

"Playing Stefanos in quarters, by the results this year on clay, he's definitely in top three, top four, together with Sascha, Novak, and Rafa on clay. I'm really looking forward to this match and what I can propose him."

Aside from the tactical adjustments both men may make is the edgy, electrical emotional undercurrent that can charge the match when Medvedev meets Tsitsipas.

Two of the tour's brightest young stars have traded barbs, acknowledged mutual animosity and once nearly came to blows on court in Miami.

Though both have said they now maintain a professional relationship, neither will be inviting the other out for chocolate croissants and espresso following this French Open showdown.

A rivalry rooted in antipathy could deliver another chapter of intensity as Tsitsipas seeks his first win over Medvedev since the 2019 ATP Finals at London's O2 Arena where he went on to win the biggest title of his career.

The 22-year-old Tsitsipas, who is bidding to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since a 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro defeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer en route to the 2009 US Open title, says now it's about action rather than assessment. 

"I think I've played some of my best tennis when I don't think much on court, when everything is being done automatically, on autopilot," Tsitsipas said. "I felt also my performance at the top. So, yes, less thinking, more action."


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