Daniil Medvedev cupped his ear once again towards the US Open crowd – but this time it was with a smile and the knowledge he had won them over.
His previous ‘bad’ behaviour had been forgiven with a heroic performance in his five-set defeat by Rafael Nadal in the final in New York.
Earlier in the tournament he had been booed, but on Sunday the crowd chanted his name while he fought back from two sets and a break down before succumbing in a five-set thriller.
“I knew I had to leave my heart out there for them,” the 23-year-old Russian said after the 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 defeat.
“I had to do that for myself first of all, but also for them. I think they saw it and they appreciate it. I’m thankful to them for this.”
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Medvedev has had a tempestuous relationship with the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium over the past fortnight, having been booed earlier in the tournament for trolling them with his provocative post-match celebrations and interviews.
He has since looked to shake off the role of pantomime villain and apologised for his behaviour, which included angrily snatching towels from ball people and curtly ‘thanking’ the American fans for jeering him.
And this gutsy display on the biggest stage of his burgeoning career, plus the humour and humility he showed in his runners-up speech, has endeared him to the American fans as well as, no doubt, a much wider audience.
On Ashe, standing ovations greeted him breaking back to level during the third set and again when he held off two break points to hold for 5-4.
A loud chant of “Med-ve-dev, Med-ve-dev, Med-ve-dev” rang around for the first time after he held serve to take a crucial 6-5 lead in the third set and continued to be heard through to the end of the match.
That recognition was testament to the ability and character which has marked out the wiry Russian, set to rise to fourth in the world on Monday, as a star in recent months.
Another prolonged ovation greeted him as he collected his prize.
“I know early in the tournament I said something in a bad way, and now I want to say it in a good way, it is because of your energy I am here,” he told the crowd.
On his earlier post-victory speeches which antagonised the American fans, he added in a later news conference: “I’m not proud of them, but I was being myself.
“But getting the crowd back, which I was surprised about, again I was being myself.
“I was fighting for every point. I think they appreciated it.
“Being a break down in the third, I won the game, and I felt that these guys wanted some more tennis.
“They were cheering me up like crazy.”
Medvedev has been the form player on the ATP Tour in the North American hard-court swing, leading to many tennis fans picking him out as the man most likely to threaten the ‘big three’ at Flushing Meadows.
After losing in the Washington and Montreal finals, Medvedev claimed the title in Cincinnati and continued his winning streak in New York to reach his first major final.
The Russian is only the third man – after Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi – to reach all four of these finals in the Open era.
Those exertions, plus the efforts he needed to keep Nadal at bay in the physical first set, looked to have caught up with him early in the match, Nadal breaking for a 4-2 lead which was enough to seal the second set, and again for a 3-2 lead in the third.
But after immediately wiping that out to level, Medvedev broke an anxious Nadal’s serve to claw a set back.
That was only the start of the story as the pair slugged it out for another two hours before Medvedev, who also fought back from 5-2 down in the decider, finally succumbed after a match lasting almost five hours.
“Absolutely phenomenal performance from Medvedev,” said Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion and BBC Radio 5 Live analyst.
“He has shown how mentally tough he is. His determination is spectacular and he has shown that is an absolute superstar athlete.”
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