For two long hours, Daniil Medvedev’s shoulders were bitterly slouched during the Grand Slam quarter-final he had entered as the heavy favourite. He struggled with his serve, double faulting on key points, and as his frustration boiled over he even spent long periods mimicking Felix Auger-Aliassime’s prolonged, breathy grunt during exchanges. As his opponent started brilliantly, it looked at times like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than the Rod Laver Arena.
But even then as he fell down two sets to Auger-Aliassime and his presence in the tournament was moments from being snuffed out, such is the aura he has built for himself over the past year, it never looked to be over. As a new morning dawned in Melbourne past midnight, Medvedev completed his recovery from two sets down and saved a match point as he defeated Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2) 7-5, 6-4 in four hours, 42 minutes to reach the Australian Open semi-final.
It is just the second time in Medvedev’s life, a career spanning eight years, that he has recovered from two sets down to win a Grand Slam match. The consequence of Medvedev’s recovery is that he will rekindle an old rivalry in the semi-final as he faces Stefanos Tsitsipas, the fourth seed, after Tsitsipas played a sublime match to defeat Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 earlier.
In the immediate aftermath of his match, as Medvedev was asked how on earth he managed to win, he could only shrug. “I have no idea,” he said. “Are you talking about the match point? I managed to serve well. If it would be a second serve, we never know what would happen. Talking about the [whole] match, you know, it’s funny. This Lacoste bag, I usually come with a lot of clothes. Just in case [I have] six T-shirts, two shoes, whatever. It’s full, it’s tough to even zip it. Now, it’s empty. That’s how this match was.”
Afterwards, Medvedev said that he drew inspiration for his comeback from an unlikely source: “I don’t really know what to do, so I was like, actually, ‘I don’t know if people are going to like it but I told myself ‘what Novak would do?’” he said. As sections of the crowd booed at the mention of the No 1, Medvedev noted his intentions of making life as difficult as possible for his opponent until the end.
Standing before Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime has spoken often of his increased maturity and the confidence flowing through him and he attacked the match in precisely that manner. From the beginning, the 21-year-old Canadian was so sharp and focused. He served extremely well and attacked his forehand behind it, but he also played a far more considered match than he would have in the past. In the first two sets, he surprisingly won most medium and long rallies as he established a two-set lead.
But with defeat a step away, Medvedev slowly became the most focused and dangerous version of himself in the third set. He improved his returning, he cut errors from his game and finally began to impose himself on Auger-Aliassime’s service games. Auger-Aliassime served excellently just to reach the tiebreak, but after a rain delay and a pause for the roof, he went cold upon the restart. As he sprayed forehand errors, Medvedev pulled back a set.
By the fourth set, Medvedev was forcing errors from his opponent almost every time the rallies extended past four points while Auger-Aliassime became reliant on the quality of his serve. In the fifth set Auger-Aliassime had his chances, particularly after generating double break-point and then missing a second serve return in his opening game. Medvedev served incredibly well whenever he truly needed to and he dragged himself one of the grittiest wins of his young career.
Medvedev said that as he attempts to recover and be in optimal shape for his semi-final, he is also thinking of the legends before him: “If we look at the best, they were able to do it somehow. I don’t know how. But they were able to do it. So if I want to be a part of this group, even if I’m really far right now, I want to try to make it happen,” he said.
As Medvedev looked on, Auger-Aliassime was left to process a bitter defeat. His performance was a reminder of his resilience and the steady improvements he continues to make. He faced up to the reality of his loss with typical maturity: “I wish I could go back and change it, but I can’t.” he said. “So, you know, I have accepted it already. It is what it is. I look at it in a very positive way.” – Guardian