Medvedev’s streak at 20; faces Djokovic in Australian final

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Russia’s Daniil Medvedev hits a forehand return to Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Daniil Medvedev simply does not lose right now. Not to Top 10 opponents. Not to anyone, really. Certainly not to a drained Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open semifinals.

Now let’s see what happens against Novak Djokovic in Rod Laver Arena.

Medvedev made it to his second Grand Slam final as he pursues his first major championship, overwhelming fifth-seeded Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 on Friday at Melbourne Park to run his winning streak to 20 matches. That includes a dozen victories against members of the Top 10.

“He’s a player,” Tsitsipas said, “who has unlocked pretty much everything in the game.”

Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece, came out flat, looking drained after an epic four-hour victory over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals Wednesday, coming back from a two-set deficit.

Still, Medvedev was terrific, getting broken just once and accruing 17 aces among his 46 winners.

That latter total featured a backhand pass he flipped down the line after sprinting into a slide for a break in the next-to-last game, a spectacular effort Medvedev celebrated by raising both arms and waving his hands in a gesture that told the world, “Check me out!”

“The moment that I won the match,” Medvedev called it. “One of my best shots in my career.”

In Sunday’s final (7:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 a.m. EST), the No. 4-seeded Medvedev will take on No. 1 Djokovic, who already owns eight Australian Open titles among his 17 Grand Slam trophies as he tries to gain on the men’s record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer.

Djokovic, who won his semifinal against 114th-ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev on Thursday, is a combined 17-0 in semifinals and finals at Melbourne Park.

“It’s him that has all the pressure, getting (closer) to Roger or Rafa in the Grand Slams,” Medvedev said. “So I just hope that I’m going to get out here, show my best tennis. As we see, I can win (against) some big names if I play good. That’s the main part. He has, for sure, more experience, but more things to lose than me.”

Medvedev was the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 U.S. Open.

“It was my first Grand Slam final against one of the greatest,” said Medvedev, a 25-year-old from Russia. “Sunday, I’m going to come (up) against one of the other greatest.”

It took just 75 minutes for Medvedev to grab a two-set lead against Tsitsipas. He went up 3-1 in the third before Tsitsipas made things a tad more interesting, if only briefly, by taking three games in a row, including his only break of the match.

But Medvedev, his baseline defense exquisite, proved too tough.

“I’m happy that I managed to change my focus and change the momentum,” Medvedev said.

Earlier, down a set and a break in the second, Tsitsipas sat down at a changeover and chucked an open water bottle, causing a splash on the court that forced ball kids to scramble for towels to wipe up the mess. The petulant scene drew a side-eye from Medvedev.

Early in the third set, Medvedev told chair umpire James Keothavong that Tsitsipas’ father, who also coaches him, “is talking way too much” from the stands.

Tsitsipas and Medvedev already have a bit of an uncomfortable history, dating to their first meeting on tour at the 2018 Miami Open. Medvedev won that one — he started their rivalry with a 5-0 edge, although Tsitsipas claimed the most recent matchup before Friday’s — and it ended with some verbal volleying.

They tried to smooth things over through the media in recent days, including Tsitsipas backtracking from denigrating Medvedev’s style of play.

“Might have said in the past that he plays boring, but I don’t really think he plays boring,” Tsitsipas said this week. “He just plays extremely smart and outplays you.”

A pretty good summation of what happened in the semifinal.

Melbourne has a sizable Greek population, and Tsitsipas got a much warmer greeting, replete with flapping blue-and-white flags, when he arrived at the court; Medvedev actually heard some jeers.

Attendance at the stadium was capped at 50% capacity — about 7,500 — when fans were allowed to return to the tournament after being barred for five days during a local lockdown due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

As much as the crowd tried to boost Tsitsipas, he never really got going until that late push that ultimately led nowhere.

“I’ve proven that I have the level to beat these players. It’s not that I haven’t,” said Tsitsipas, who fell to 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals, with the other defeats coming against Nadal and Djokovic. “Let’s hope for something better next time. I really hope it comes.”

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