By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Stefanos Tsitsipas celebrated victory over fellow ATP Finals debutant Daniil Medvedev like he had won the title on Monday as he finally snapped a jinx against his Russian bogeyman.
Tsitsipas, the first Greek player to qualify for the season-ender, had lost all five previous matches against Medvedev but he turned the tables in impressive fashion.
His 7-6(5) 6-4 win leaves the swashbuckling 21-year-old well-placed to challenge for a place in the semi-finals and the fact that he beat U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev appears to have made his O2 Arena bow extra sweet.
With contrasting styles and feisty demeanours both are tipped to win Grand Slam titles and the fact there appears to be ‘bad chemistry’ between them bodes well for the box office.
“It means more than extra. It’s a victory that I craved for a long time now, and it’s great that I came in at this moment,” world number six Tsitsipas, told reporters.
“He’s a tough player. He’s a very difficult player to face. He’s not giving you an easy time when you’re out on the court. So it definitely means a lot.”
Medvedev, 23, went on an incredible streak after Wimbledon this year, reaching six successive finals including at Flushing Meadow where he extended Rafael Nadal in a five-set thriller.
His form has cooled since then and although he raised his level against Tsitsipas the momentum was always with the Greek whose free-flowing, all-court style proved popular with the large afternoon crowd in London.
Playing the more adventurous tennis, Tsitsipas earned a set point in the opening tiebreak with a nerveless volley onto the sideline and converted when Medvedev netted a forehand.
World number four Medvedev saved three break points at 3-3 in the second but an error of judgement at 4-4 gave Tsitsipas another break point chance which this time he converted.
Tsitsipas claimed victory with a smash.
Medvedev played down suggestions that losing to Tsitsipas for the first time stung more, saying he was happy with the way he played after some poor form in the lead-up.
“He was better today, but I felt like I was missing some things,” Medvedev said. “That would frustrate me against any other opponent. Of course, I wanted to make it even bigger head-to-head, but it’s the way it is.”
With fans and media craving new rivalries to carry the game forward when the sun sets on the golden age of Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, it is understandable that any potential bad blood between players is seized upon.
Tsistipas was asked outright why he does not like Medvedev.
“That’s a strong statement, I never said I don’t like him,” he said before describing an incident in a match against Medvedev in Miami last year when words were exchanged.
“I mean, our chemistry definitely isn’t the best that you can find on the tour,” he said. “It just happens with people that it’s not that you can just like everyone.
“It’s not that I hate him. I guess, as he said, we will not go to dinner together. I respect him, for sure.”
Later in the Andre Agassi group world number one Rafael Nadal faces defending champion Alexander Zverev.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)