After watching another Daniil Medvedev masterclass in Shanghai, Michael Graham ponders whether tennis finally has a new custodian of the brilliance that Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal have made our norm.
As a tennis fan first and foremost, I often find myself locked in a strange mental dichotomy.
On the one hand, I can’t help but admire the dominance of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal of the last decade and more because it is borne of brilliance.
On the other hand, the failure of players to rise to challenge them, whist testament to, and confirmation of, the genius of those three, has been something of a disappointment.
And players have tried. It would be a devastatingly undeserved disservice to Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, to name the two most obvious names, to say that players have failed to take on Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.
It hasn’t been sustainable – from a sheer physical point of view for both Murray and Wawrinka never mind anything else – which perhaps lends more to the scale of their achievement, but they have done it.
For the first time in a while, though, in Danii Medvedev we have a player that you feel can genuinely rival and ultimately replace Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, not just in terms of success but quality too.
In many ways, I find myself reluctant to even dare believe Medvedev can do it.
But, then again, there is just something about him.
His defeat of Alexander Zverev, himself a brilliantly talented player, in the Shanghai Masters final carried all the hallmarks the very best has etched into tennis expectation over the last 15 years.
Medvedev was cool and composed against an initial onslaught , but he was never once overpowered. Zverev threw everything he had at him and he stood up to it, confidently and authoritatively biding his time until the storm blew itself out.
When it eventually did, he ruthlessly capitalise, broke the resistance, and turned the screw.
Most telling of all, though, was perhaps Medvedev’s reaction after the seemingly effortless final point was won.
There was no celebration, there was no emotion. There was simply a cold acceptance that the brilliance that proceeded it was completely natural and wholly expected.
Next season will actually be the true test for Medvedev, regardless of how well he has done this year.
In 2020, he will be capable of launching a challenge for the world number one spot, but to do it he will have to break the hold that Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have over the Grand Slams.
Until then, he will simply stand as tennis’ shining new hope – not just that there wil be life after Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, but that there will be no drop-off in the quality with which they have forced us to become accustomed.
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