Wednesday, January 26, 2022

By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Boos greeted mention of Novak Djokovic as Daniil Medvedev revealed his epic quarter-final comeback to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime was inspired by the nine-time champion.

Another night of high tension at Melbourne Park saw the title favourite pushed to the brink before turning the match around to win 6-7 (4) 3-6 7-6 (2) 7-5 6-4 and set up a rematch of last year’s semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“I was not playing my best and Felix was playing unbelievable, serving unbelievable,” said Medvedev.

“I didn’t really know what to do. I don’t know if you’re going to like this but I told myself, ‘What would Novak do?’ What came into my mind, I just thought, ‘OK, I’m going to make him work. If he wants to win it, he’s going to have to fight until the last point’. I managed to raise my level.”

Djokovic has faded into the background as the tournament has gone on, with his off-court dramas overtaken by those on court, but this was a reminder that Melbourne has neither forgotten nor forgiven the extraordinary events that occurred on the eve of the tournament.

Medvedev had worn the mantle of favourite well following Djokovic’s deportation but it was clear from the start of this match that the US Open champion had his work cut out.

Auger-Aliassime, 21, has begun 2022 with a new steel, helping Canada to the ATP Cup title despite a heavy defeat against Medvedev in the semi-finals.

He matched Medvedev from the back of the court, putting doubt into the mind of the second seed during a series of lengthy exchanges, and two double faults in the first-set tie-break proved costly.

Medvedev looked to his box in exasperation while Auger-Aliassime, who lost in straight sets to the Russian in the last four in New York, pressed home his advantage in the second set and looked for a break in the third.

Medvedev held on, though, and, after an ill-timed rain break to close the roof at 2-1 in the tie-break, capitalised on some loose play from his opponent to force a fourth set.

The contest remained on a knife edge, and a double fault from Medvedev brought up a match point for ninth seed Auger-Aliassime in the 10th game.

Felix Auger-Aliassime plays a shot between his legs
Felix Auger-Aliassime plays a shot between his legs (Tertius Pickard/AP)

It disappeared in the flash of a big serve, and Medvedev broke in the next game and again early in the decider. Still it was not straightforward as Medvedev wobbled in sight of the line, but his serve came to his rescue again as he clinched victory after four hours and 42 minutes.

On Friday’s semi-final, he added: “It’s the semi-final of a grand slam so, even if I’m in the worst shape of my life, I’m going to fight like hell.”

Auger-Aliassime tried to take the positives from his near miss, saying: “I can go back and think I wish I made different choices, or I wish Daniil didn’t play as good in certain moments. But it was a good effort.

“I can’t regret the effort that I put in and the chances I gave myself. Of course I would have loved to win. It sucks to lose in the end but that’s life. I just need to accept it.

“I’m going to leave Australia with my head held high and I’m going to go into the rest of the season knowing that I can play well against the best players in the world.”

Earlier, Tsitsipas produced his best performance of the tournament to defeat Jannik Sinner 6-3 6-4 6-2.

Tsitsipas came into the event with uncertainty over his form and fitness following elbow surgery and had survived some tight matches, especially his fourth-round victory over Taylor Fritz.

He revealed afterwards that his surgeon did not expect him to be fit enough to play in the tournament, but the difficulties may just have given him an extra edge.

“My injuries have taught me a lot of things,” said the fourth seed. “My injuries have taught me how to wait and be patient and prepare better, take the time to reflect and take the time to reconsider certain things in life.

“Being in the position of being privileged where you get to have a great set-up where you can go back and practise every single day and have people that work with you and have people that care for you is something that is underestimated.”

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