Bubbles popped and fizzed as they poured across the surface of Rod Laver Arena.
It’s the second of the men’s semifinals of the Australian Open 2022 and Daniil Medvedev has boiled over after falling a break down in the second set. It’s a tirade, leaping into his throat and out through his mouth, a diatribe that screams inner-turmoil and a willingness to feel hard-done-by. Regardless of anything else, he is certain that he’s justified in his words, derived as they are by what he knows are injustices, his opponent’s coaching team making this match all about them through hand gestures and words, signals that indicate sideline advice which is against the rules.
“His father can talk every point?! Are you stupid? His father can talk every point?! Oh my god! Oh my god, you are so bad, man! How can you be so bad in semifinals of Grand Slam?”
The umpire lets it brush across him with an air of the unbothered, only deigning to offer a few words meant to calm and a handful of sideways glances of general disapproval that all umpires have at their disposal, one of those “I’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down a bit” looks that parents of young children will recognise instantly. This does not satisfy Medvedev, who lets loose further as he leaves the court for a toilet break five minutes later after losing the set.
“You understand, right? If you don’t (give him a coaching warning) you are – how can I say it – a small cat.”
Sherlock Holmes you need not be to deduce what he meant by this final comment…
Up until this point, the match had been finely poised, Medvedev taking the first set amidst consistent play in retaliation to a positive Tsitsipas start, Tsitsipas nabbing the second by remaining steadfast.
And now here we were, all-square with a real contest on our hands but a real temper tantrum in our midst.
To a casual observer, it would have looked like a complete loss of awareness that could well impact negatively on Medvedev, a cauldron of white hot annoyances in danger of breaking across the skills of the Russian. But what would go on to take place is something very much different.
You see, the thing with Medvedev is that when he’s angry, he seems able to actively converse with it, to come to an agreement over a coffee with it rather than simply let himself suffer beneath its wrath. It’s still there, still very much apparent, still very much vocalised but it’s also different now: they’re a team. This is an important distinction given that as a result, he’s able to avoid being distracted by bursts of extreme red and instead, feeds off it all with hardened intent.
For the purposes of the discussion of winning from scenarios like this one, it’s also important to note that it doesn’t necessarily matter if Medvedev is correct in his feelings or not. It matters only that he believes that he is. As long as that’s the case, nothing much can stop him from re-routing the temperamental energies in his system and directing them solely back into the on-court action.
The Russian isn’t alone in mastering the curious art of letting anger consume play all the way through to lay claim to positive results. 7-time major winner John McEnroe was infamous for his outbursts that at times seemed unhinged but he appeared forever capable of managing his game as a result of it and using the chaos he himself sparked to sponge every last winner from his game that he could muster. More recently, current men’s world number one Novak Djokovic operates best when he thinks that the entire world’s against him. And the blueprint for doing this is arguably the greatest player of all time, Serena Williams, who repeatedly leveraged herself to standards unmatched throughout her career by centering her emotions at the core of her play when necessary.
It’s an awareness of one’s own thoughts and senses and being able to know how to properly utilise them that often sets the great adrift from just the very good. Medvedev is well on his way to bridging that gap already, so more-or-less straightforwardly did he then go on to win the following two sets of his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas that it almost seemed unfair given how well the Greek had played to draw back level.
Indeed, the third and fourth set scorelines spared Tsitsipas only five games collectively as Medvedev walked up walls and passed through ceilings to reach additional levels, fuelled to get up there by an intense distaste for the what he felt was unfairness.
In the moment, Medvedev did only what he believed the predicament that he found himself in allowed room for. That he escaped any real admonishment for umpire verbal abuse seems lucky but given how direct a confrontation it was, you would have to believe that Jaume Campistol was not particularly bothered by the proceedings. Medvedev would later apologise for his behaviour directly to Campistol and when asked about the incident in press afterwards, suggested that he often regrets these kind of outbursts following the conclusion of matches.
Perhaps for Medvedev then, it’s an unhealthy relationship to find himself so worked up. So often does it leave him as a winner at some point down the line, so often does it leave him wishing he’d maintained better control…
Amongst the mess, however, Medvedev remains now with one match separating him from becoming the first male player in the Open Era to win his second major title directly after his first. Just one Rafael Nadal blocks his path, a figure unlikely to be shaken or flapped by antics or attitude.
It’s lucky then that Medvedev has so much more at his disposal than simply toy-out-of-pram tendencies…