French Open 2021: Has Daniil Medvedev finally cracked his clay curse?

Without intending to jinx the two-time Grand Slam finalist, who is seeded second in Paris, he has earned gritty wins over Alexander Bublik and Tommy Paul, though big-serving American Reilly Opelka will present his biggest test yet later today.

Are these early round results flattering to deceive?

Medvedev celebrating his straight-sets win over Bublik earlier this week

The thing with Medvedev is, you’re stuck in two minds whether to believe his justified nonchalance or bet against him finally doing what he hasn’t done before: embarking on a deep Roland Garros run.

After all, this is a player whose game doesn’t necessarily translate well on clay and his historical results rather amplify that. He’s lost in four successive first-round matches, dating back to his main draw debut – 2017 against wildcard Benjamin Bonzi. 

It doesn’t mean he can’t still wow you with expert shot-making, as his world no. 2 ranking doesn’t lie. But if he’s to develop another gear, he – just like Naomi Osaka (also world #2) – must develop a better rhythm on non-hard court events.

While Osaka’s withdrawal earlier this week sadly cut short her latest attempt to do just that, Medvedev has successfully navigated past two early round matches that he conceivably would’ve lost in previous years.

The next test? Opelka (#32nd seed), who hasn’t ever reached the fourth round at a Grand Slam, but should be bullish about his chances of finally changing that today.

Even without isolating Medvedev’s clay struggles, be it psychological or execution, the 23-year-old American has a weapon many wish they possessed: a deadly serve alongside his 6ft11 frame.

Couple that with the Paris conditions and, unless Medvedev starts well quickly, he could be in for a long afternoon. Local curfews meant no supporters were cheering the Russian on as he clawed his way back from a set down to beat Isner’s compatriot Paul Wednesday night.

You saw him gradually draining the latter down with that aforementioned brilliant shot-making and didn’t let his head drop, perhaps because he knew the match was still there to be taken.

How he does against Opelka will go a long way to answering the question plenty have waited a while for, in a side of the draw lacking much firepower.

US Open winner Dominic Thiem was stunned in R1, questions remain about Alexander Zverev’s ability against fellow top players and while Stefanos Tsitsipas is favoured to become a first-time finalist, Medvedev broke his spirit in Melbourne earlier this year.

Still, plenty needs to go smoothly for both in their respective rounds before the Greek can even start thinking about a chance at revenge next week.

Picture source: Getty

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