Daniil Medvedev is the heir to the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic dynasty men’s tennis needs

Daniil Medvedev reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic during the men's singles final of the US Open.
Daniil Medvedev reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic during the men’s singles final of the U.S. Open on Sept. 12 in New York.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

For the first time in more than a decade, a look down the road in men’s professional tennis does not bring pictures of Swiss mastery or Spanish dominance. Maybe not even Serbian untouchability.

The man of the moment is a Russian named Daniil Medvedev , and not just because he won last month’s U.S. Open. He appears to be perfect: Big forehand, even bigger backhand. A serve that whistles at 130 mph. And at 6 foot 6, 185 pounds, court coverage that resembles a deer.

Oh yes, and he is 25.

Roger Federer isn’t here at this October‘s BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. He is spending more time with doctors than with his forehand these days. Much the same for Rafael Nadal, who punished and pounded so many opponents over the years that his body now appears to be doing payback. Then there is Novak Djokovic, who lost that U.S. Open to Medvedev on Sept. 12 and seemed to be in a funk when he pulled out of this tournament a week ago.


Djokovic said he was sorry he couldn’t be in the desert for his fans. He didn’t say much else.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have each won 20 major tournaments. That’s not only a record, it’s otherworldly. They have been the faces and soul of men’s tennis since Federer won his first Wimbledon title in 2003 and Nadal his first French in ’05. Then Djokovic won his first Australian in 2008 and, if none of the three ended up in ensuing Grand Slam finals, it was big news.

The BNP Paribas Open finally returned to Indian Wells on Wednesday after COVID caused a cancellation in 2020 and a postponement this spring.

Oct. 6, 2021

News more pertinent to the current state of men’s tennis is that Federer is 40, Nadal 35 and Djokovic 34. In normal life, they are young men. In tennis life, they are starting to think about AARP memberships.

Certainly, all three could come firing back. Djokovic is far from gone. Think of this year’s PGA Championship and Phil Mickelson. Senior citizens can still rule, just not often.

So, it’s natural that tennis turns its lonely eyes to the hugely talented player from Moscow. Medvedev, seeded No. 1 here and starting play Saturday, now faces the media rush everywhere he turns, and he is handling it with perspective.

“I can’t imagine the kind of fame Rafa and Roger and Novak have, and have gone through,” he said. “They’ve got 20 majors and I have one.”


The smart money says there will be more than one. Numbers don’t tell everything, but they tell a lot. Since 2018, Medvedev has:

• Won 118 tour matches. Djokovic is second with 115.

• Won 12 hardcourt tournaments. Djokovic is second with 10.

• Led the tour with 17 hardcourt finals.

His U.S. Open title has changed Medvedev’s world. In recent departures from the Big Three dominance, Juan Martin Del Potro won a U.S. Open, as did Marin Cilic. But Medvedev’s feels different.

Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev talk during the trophy ceremony.
Novak Djokovic, left, and Daniil Medvedev talk during the trophy ceremony after the men’s singles final of the U.S. Open on Sept. 12 in New York.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Djokovic was attempting to complete one of the most prestigious accomplishments in tennis. By winning, he would become the first men’s player to win the four majors in a calendar year since Rod Laver did it in 1969. Not only did Medvedev end that dream, he did so in straight sets.

Djokovic is the ultimate fighter. Rallying from two sets down would not have been a rare occurrence, especially with so much at stake. Beating Djokovic, always in incredible physical shape, is like trying to stop a worm from wiggling. Medvedev said Thursday that, while acutely aware of Djokovic’s ability to rally, he was only playing the match forward in his mind after he jumped out to a 6-4, 6-4 lead.

“I’ve played him in Grand Slams before,” he said. “I know how, with him, it is never over. I was spending my time thinking about what I had to do next to win.”

Medvedev also said that while he was aware of the calendar-year grand slam pursuit and what a downer for tennis Djokovic’s loss would be, he framed the moment in positive thoughts.

“Everybody knew about it, talked about it during the tournament,” Medvedev said, “but it only occurred to me that might put even more pressure on him. You can’t have any pity in a match.”

Daniil Medvedev ends Novak Djokovic’s bid to become the first man to win a calendar Grand Slam in 52 years by taking the U.S. Open singles title.

Sept. 12, 2021

The pity came only later. It served to endear him to the New York tennis crowd and jumpstart an image that may grow in concert with his tennis success. He told the crowd, in the awards ceremony, that he was “sorry.”

“I knew what a big deal the Grand Slam was,” he said. “I knew the crowd had been deprived of that. You don’t have any pity during the match, but you take care of that afterward.”

Having a sense of the moment greatly enhances any public career. Medvedev may have opportunities at Indian Wells. His top-seeding here could take him to a final match against Greece’s young star, second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who once labeled playing a match against Medvedev as “boring.”

This time in the desert may go far toward determining whether Tsitsipas’ assessment is valid in either Medvedev’s tennis or image-building.