Daniil Medvedev has advanced to the US Open semi-finals with the loss of just one set as he pursues his first major trophy. The Russian has made the last for at this event in three consecutive years, and will play Felix Auger-Aliassime for a spot in his third major final.
Before the match, ATPTour.com spoke to Medvedev’s longtime coach, Gilles Cervara, about his charge’s progression through the tournament, how much he has changed since making his first semi-final at Flushing Meadows two years ago, dealing with pressure and more.
How happy are you with the tournament so far?
On one side I’m happy because Daniil is in the semi-finals with full energy because he won all his matches in three sets and one in four sets. Even in the four-setter, the match was not that long. The other part of me is thinking we are just in the semi-final. It’s a good thing, but not enough for us.
How would you say your mindset has changed since making that first semi-final here a couple of years ago?
I think the mindset doesn’t change really, because even at that moment, our goal was to be the best we could be. It means when you have to play one match, you want to win that match. We want to do everything we have to do to win that match. Daniil is No. 2 in the world, so it’s something normal to be here and [want to] win every tournament. But if you see the details, it’s the same mindset.
Of course when you make your first semi-final, you feel that it’s something big, so that’s why you are not prepared to be in the semi-final. It’s new, you have a lot of emotion, you are proud of yourself. It’s something really big. Today, to be in the semi-final, it’s not as big as it was in the past. But the mindset to perform, succeed, do your best and be the best player you can be is exactly the same.
Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA
From a coaching perspective, what have you learned from Daniil’s previous runs this deep in majors, including his two major finals?
My mindset is the same since I’m a kid. I try to do the best I can do and perform in everything I can do. I didn’t learn so many things about the performance. For me, it’s the same. But what I learned is the question I have in myself about players.
When you have a player like Daniil, it’s to try to understand or know what makes the difference between Daniil for example or another player in the Top 30 or Top 100, to realise what makes the difference between these guys in their potential. That’s an interesting question, because you can realise that there is some part of these top players that they’re born with this and some players don’t have this and that makes success tougher to get.
Have you studied the Big Three to try to understand what allows them to perform at their best in the big moments?
Of course, I see it every day with Daniil, and especially when he plays big matches like he already did many times and like he will do tomorrow. In matches, adversity makes him find the best in himself. The match is the most important part to find his best and sometimes during practice, you cannot reach this level of adversity. Matches make these players better for sure.
All these experiences for players, it’s like somewhere inside them. Of course they use it like something invisible, like self confidence, that they already lived something like this to help them win that kind of match.
How different do you believe Daniil is as a player compared to a couple years ago?
You get more mature, more experience. And when we talk about experience, it’s the ability to play this kind of match with less stress, and to know more about himself and get prepared the best way he has to be. It’s all the small things. I hope it can make a small difference against Felix, who is playing his first semi-final in a Grand Slam.
Medvedev reached his first major final in New York two years ago. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
How much could that experience help in a moment like this?
I can’t really tell you today. We will see tomorrow if it will make a difference. Let’s see. I cannot say because of course even if a player hasn’t played a semi-final yet, he is still able to win. If he is at this level of the competition, it means he has good skills and a good game to win. Everything is possible. We cannot only say Daniil has more experience. Maybe, but we of course cannot just wait for this.
Daniil has only played Felix once in a match and it was more than three years ago. How much time have they spent practising together?
Yes, we do it sometimes, so they know each other. They appreciate each other. We know it will be a really tough match, because we saw Felix during the tournament play an amazing game. He’s a very dangerous player.
As you get deeper into a big tournament like this there is more pressure, so what do you guys do to avoid that?
For us it’s very, very easy because Daniil is a very simple person. The pressure is not on his shoulders, that’s my feeling. Because he’s like this, I have no pressure at all as well. I live my normal life. I like to practise, I like to box and I continue to do this during the tournament, so it doesn’t change anything. I just do this outside with a boxing coach because with the virus, I don’t want to be in any gym.
We live a normal life on the Tour and during the tournament. Even with big matches, it doesn’t change anything. We stay the same.
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As you mentioned, Daniil is a simple guy who never seems to let the pressure or a moment get to him too much. How impressive is that?
It’s very important to go on court very light on these things that can make you more tight or not [able to use] 100 per cent of your resources. These things are very important. In the past, many players have lost matches because of pressure or they didn’t know how to deal with it. Everybody is different with this pressure.
Someone asked Daniil if he was thinking about Novak and he was very clear he isn’t because he has to focus on what he is doing. How important is it that he is not thinking too far ahead?
When you focus on yourself, it makes you stay in the present and focus on what you have to do. It makes you better than having part of your brain, part of your mind thinking of something useless. I think Daniil has a good mindset to keep focussing on what he has to do only.
Even if you watch Novak and the other matches, he doesn’t think or compare to him. He will only have to do it if he wins and Novak also wins. That’s why it’s useless to think about Novak now or before [they play].