We all know it’s tough to play against a brick wall. But what about a brick wall that’s really far away? You can’t hit through it, and you can’t hit around it, either.

That’s essentially what Reilly Opelka faced when he went up against Daniil Medvedev in the final of the men’s National Bank Open in Toronto on Sunday. Medvedev always likes to camp out well behind the baseline, but against the 6’11” American, who is one of the tour leaders in aces, he took an extra step or two back and dared him to put the ball past him.

Opelka couldn’t do it. He came in averaging 17.75 aces per match in 2021; today he finished with just eight, and only a late, single-game flurry got him to that number. To his credit, Opelka didn’t keep trying to smash his way through the Medvedev wall. He also tried following his towering kick serves to net, but Medvedev ranged well outside the sidelines to track them down, and then dipped his returns at the big man’s feet.

“When I played Reilly, I feel like I like to return it really far back, because otherwise it’s super tough to return,” Medvedev said earlier in the week, when he was asked about the prospect of facing the American’s serve. “At the same time, it’s obvious that if he starts making kicks and serve and volley, well, I’m not gonna have any chance by returning far back.”

Obviously, he underestimated himself.


When serving and volleying didn’t work, Opelka tried to follow his forehand to net, but Medvedev had the answers there as well, in the form of his passing shots, which were at their pinpoint best today. More frustrating for Opelka may have been his own ill-timed mistakes. Up 0-40 with Medvedev serving at 1-2 in the first set, Opelka struggled to put a ball in the court and lost five straight points. Down a break point at 0-1 in the second set, he double faulted. And with a chance to break back at 2-3 in the second set, he worked himself into position to hit a putaway forehand, only to try a drop shot and push it wide.

But Medvedev’s 6-4, 6-3 victory wasn’t all on his opponent’s racquet. It was the Russian’s defense, his ability to keep forcing his opponent to hit another shot, that caused many of Opelka’s errors. And it was Medvedev who, despite making just 50 percent of his first serves on the day, came up with five in a row to extricate himself from that 0-40 jam early in the first set. Only a player who is as quick, rangy, and powerful as Medvedev can afford to give up so much ground against high-level opponents. Medvedev retreats, but he does so because it makes it easier for him to attack.

“Sometimes I go far back because that’s from where I can hit full power,” he said, “and the guy’s gonna be in trouble because he’s gonna think that I’m so far back that he needs to actually go for some good shot and he’s going to make a winner, but that’s not the case.”

Medvedev needed this win. It was on his favorite surface, it was at an event where he has done well before, and it comes after three somewhat disappointing big-event results, at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the Olympics. After the latter, Medvedev went to Orlando for a few days to try to put his defeat behind him; now he can look forward, potentially to better things at two tournaments where he has good memories from in 2019, Cincinnati and the US Open. He said he would travel to Cincy and “see how my body feels.”

“I want to achieve more, I want to play better,” he said. “[In Canada and Cincinnati] the goal is to know where your game is.”

Where is Medvedev’s game now? Way back in the court, making life miserable for his opponents—exactly where he wants it to be.