By Sigurd Neubauer
Daniil Medvedev, 27, is clearly having a great season as his victory at the 2023 Miami Open is his fourth this year. The Russian has won the ABN AMRO Open, Qatar ExxonMobil Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. From there, he ultimately lost to Carlos Alcaraz, 19, during the final of the Indian Wells Masters tournament.
During the final of the Miami Open, the Russian easily defeated Jannik Sinner, 21, 7-5, 6-3.
Commenting on the final, President of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) Vesa Ponkka, who is also one of America’s preeminent coaches, attributes Medvedev’s victory to what appears to be his psychological advantage vis-à-vis Sinner: the Russian has defeated the Italian six-to-zero during their matches.
“Medvedev was serving extremely well in that match, and perhaps Sinner appeared exhausted mentally from his hard-earned victory over Alcaraz during the semifinal,” he adds.
In the grueling world of men’s tennis, it was Medvedev who suffered from mental and physical exhaustion as recently as during his loss to Alcaraz at the Indian Wells Masters.
At the same time, Sinner defeated Alcaraz – the World No 1. – in the semifinal in Miami in a match standing out for its beauty, elegance, and precession.
“The match represented high-quality tennis from both players,” the JTCC President explains as he attributes their on-court dynamics to what potentially could evolve into another great tennis rivalry between the two. “They are establishing a new pecking order and it was a pleasure to watch it.”
Ponkka fondly recalls staying up to 3:00am to watch Alcaraz and Sinner battle it out during the quarterfinals of the 2022 US Open, which the Spaniard ultimately won. It was also his first Grand Slam title.
“With the world of tennis preparing itself to witness the two battling it out, it is clear that Sinner will win plenty of Grand Slams in the future.” Sinner’s is ranked as No. 9 in the world.
Alcaraz and Sinner appear to have established a new pecking order
Responding to what trends are emerging within the sport, Ponkka explains that the Miami Open is arguably ushering in a new era of what he calls “the Top Four,” namely Medvedev, Alcaraz, Sinner, and of course, Novak Djokovic, 35.
Because the Serb declined to take the Covid-19 vaccine, he was unable to participate in the Miami Open and Indian Wells Masters due to U.S. government pandemic era restrictions for foreigners.
“The new Top Four are separating themselves from the rest of the top 10,” Ponkka points out, adding that it used to be Roger Federer, 41, Rafael Nadal, 36, Andy Murray, 35, and Djokovic.
Tied with Nadal for most grand slam titles – 22 – Djokovic is on his way to become the winner of the most grand slam titles of all time.
Had the Serb been able to participate in the Sunshine Double, namely the back-to-back Indian Wells Masters and the Miami Open, he would have been a clear favorite to win either of them.
“It is not a coincidence that Medvedev, Alcaraz, and Sinner did well at the Sunshine Double as they prefer the hard courts,” Ponkka says, then quips: “Medvedev doesn’t like to play on clay courts.”
With his fifth consecutive final behind him, Medvedev’s approach to playing on clay may be about to change, the veteran coach explains. “It will be interesting to see how Medvedev performs against Djokovic at the upcoming French Open and the Wimbledon.”
In Miami, Petra Kvitová, 33, earned a hard-fought victory against Elena Rybakina, 23, at 7-6(14), 6-2). “It was an epic tie break against Rybakina as both were serving well. It was a high-quality match.”
Continues Ponkka: “Kvitová plays a beautiful game,” adding that it “was great to see her coming through” in Miami. “She’s a great human being who is beloved by everyone, including her fiercest competitors on court. Because Kvitová treats everyone well, she’s one of the most liked WTA players over the past decade.” Kvitová is ranked No. 10 in the world whereas Rybakina is No. 7.
On what’s next for the Czech, the JTCC President points out that she’s won Wimbledon twice, in 2011 and 2014.
“She’s healthy and is a favorite to win again this year.”
Clay court season
Although Nadal is suffering from injuries, he has not yet retired from the sport. He’s a master on the clay court as he’s won 14 French Open titles throughout his career. “We have to keep in mind that the Spaniard is still hanging around and can’t be counted out.”
Ponkka is referring to the fact that Nadel will be playing next week in Monte Carlo at the 2023 Monte-Carlo Masters, which begins on April 8. It is also one of the most famous clay court tournaments in the world.
With spring comes the clay season in Europe. “It will be interesting to see who adjusts from the winter season played on hard courts as we get ready for the upcoming French Open,” which begins on May 28.
For Ponkka, who knows the U.S. top players intimately, he will be monitoring closely which of them who have been playing well over the past eight months will rise to the occasion. “Traditionally American players don’t like the slow red clay. It is a challenge for them as they grew up on hard courts whereas Europeans – especially the Spaniards – grew up on clay courts.”