By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia held his nerve in a war of attrition against American Frances Tiafoe to register a 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-2 victory in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
American great John McEnroe recently tipped Medvedev as the man most likely to break the Grand Slam stranglehold of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer at Melbourne Park after a season featuring four titles and a Tour-leading 59 match wins.
Medvedev, a U.S. Open finalist last year, arrived in Melbourne in red-hot form, winning all his singles matches at the inaugural ATP Cup before a three-set defeat to seven-time Australian Open champion Djokovic in the semi-final.
He broke Tiafoe’s serve three times to breeze through the opening set, but the American came roaring back to level the match in the second, displaying a never-say-die attitude in front of an appreciative Rod Laver Arena crowd.
“He’s a tough first round. Frances is really a great player,” Medvedev told reporters. “Knew it’s not going to be easy. But happy with the win because that’s most important. First round of a slam, never easy.
“Sometimes the most important is to really not show some crazy level or crazy shots, but just to win the match, get into the tournament. Was a tough match against Frances, but happy to win it in four sets without playing five hours.”
World number 50 Tiafoe had reached the quarter-final in Melbourne in 2019 and showed why, matching his higher-ranked opponent in the duels both from the baseline and at the net.
In the third set, Medvedev broke the American after a marathon second game and then jumped to a 3-0 lead after saving three breakpoints for a hold.
Tiafoe, 22, once again refused to give up and got back the break but his unforced errors in the end handed one more break and the set to the Russian.
Medvedev was more confident in the fourth set and after an early trade of breaks he broke Tiafoe’s serve twice more and sealed the match when his opponent was forced into an error.
“I think I have a lot of things to improve regarding today’s match. Especially the serve, I was not happy at all with my serve,” he said.
“As I say, finally the most important is to win, to just win the match, get into the second round, get the sensation of the court, of the atmosphere, everything. Usually later in the tournament everything goes better and better.”
The 23-year-old Medvedev, who lost to eventual champion Djokovic in the fourth round last year, will play Pedro Martinez in the second round after the Spanish qualifier beat German Dominik Koepfer 6-3 6-4 7-5.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Hugh Lawson)