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Daniil Medvedev bests Andy Murray in a battle of No. 1s
Over the course of 89 minutes, Medvedev’s 6-4, 6-2 victory over Murray revealed much about how tennis has evolved, even over the last half-decade.
Published Mar 26, 2022
WATCH: Daniil Medvedev defeats Andy Murray in a battle of former world No. 1s in the second round of the 2022 Miami Open.
In the opening game of his second round Miami Open match against Daniil Medvedev, Andy Murray won a 26-ball rally. Call that one point a case of battle won, war lost.
Over the course of 89 minutes, Medvedev’s 6-4, 6-2 victory revealed much about how tennis has evolved even over the last half-decade. Said Murray, “I think the one thing that's probably changed in the last five or six years, probably like the guys have got a bit bigger but they are still moving extremely well. I think maybe five, ten years ago, players that were sort of Dano's height, they were still very good players but not quite moving like he does.”
On paper, the match-up intrigued. After all, since February 2004, these are the only two men not named Djokovic, Nadal or Federer to have held the ATP’s No. 1 ranking. But while Murray finished No. 1 back in 2016 and eventually held that spot for 41 weeks, Medvedev is new to tennis’ pinnacle, having reached that place last month. These two also have much in common as stylists, from air-tight backhands to superb mobility to a sharply disruptive synthesis of defense and offense.
“It’s never easy when you play Andy,” Medvedev told Prakash Amritraj on the Tennis Channel desk just after the match. “From the first to the last of the match, I had to be there.”
Murray at his peak was one of the fastest players in the game. But he’s now 34, less swift around the court than the 26-year-old Medvedev. It wasn’t going to be easy for Murray to sustain the mobility, pace or depth required to win long rallies. Then again, Murray’s resume has not been built on the kind of first-strike tennis fueled by big serves and massive forehands. So short rallies weren’t a natural fit either.
Instead, Murray has long been intellectually nimble, physically fit, mentally persistent, adroit at executing three macro concepts long espoused by his mother and formative coach, Judy: Make trouble. Avoid trouble. Get out of trouble.
But Medvedev also had those same three qualities—and even more, could repeatedly employ his big serve to dictate the direction of many a point.
“Managed to serve well,” said Medvedev, “and I think that was one of the keys today. No breakpoints for him. When it's tough for you to get a breakpoint, it works on both sides, you get more pressure on your serve, so I think that's what kind of happened, because second set was going pretty tight in the beginning, but he just cracked just a little bit and I managed to take it.”
So there stood Murray, in between a rock and a hard place, uncertain how he was going to extract errors from a younger, faster opponent with a better serve. As early as 1-1 in the first set, the tactical demands of such a matchup triggered three forehand errors from Murray, handing Medvedev that set’s pivotal service break. Only at 5-4, after Medvedev double-faulted at 15-all, was there the chance of an opening for Murray. But three superb serves from Medvedev—including an ace down the T at 30-all—slammed the door shut on the 46-minute opening set.
A similar pattern marked the second set. Serving at 2-2, 15-40, Murray rallied to deuce, but again, he lacked enough force to hurt Medvedev, who broke Murray in that game with a crisp backhand volley winner—the kind of net attack that might have aided Medvedev in his Australian Open final loss to Nadal. With Murray serving at 2-4, Medvedev earned an insurance break, winning eight of the last nine points to handily close out the match.
The storyline for each is fascinating. Medvedev is deep in the thick of what he hopes will be a long, rich career. Currently No. 2 in the rankings after losing in the third round at Indian Wells, Medvedev can return to the top with a semifinal showing in Miami. From there, it’s off to Europe and the hope of generating high-quality results on clay, the surface where he’s most struggled.
Murray’s spring will be very different. There’ll be no clay court tennis for Murray this year. “I think maybe as players are getting older [they are] prioritizing specific parts of the season where maybe they can feel they can be more successful,” he explained. “For me… I had the problem in Miami last year and then tried to play on the clay and aggravated the problem.”
Instead, having reunited with Ivan Lendl, Murray next heads off to Orlando for a three-week training block, devoted to getting fit for Wimbledon. Lendl too once made such a decision, in 1990 skipping the European clay season in hopes of at last winning the one major that had eluded him. Murray, though, has twice won Wimbledon.
Murray’s also been through so much since he long ago was No. 1 in the world—including a hip injury that in 2019 seemed likely to end his career—that he will likely continue to bring wisdom and perspective every time he plays. Hopefully, he’ll be fit enough to avoid and get out of trouble. Can he continue to make it?