Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov have proved an effective combination as they carried Russia into the quarterfinals of the inaugural ATP Cup. After going 3-0 in the group stages, can they remain unbeaten as they face Argentina on Thursday?
Russia vs Argentina is live from Sydney on Thursday 9 January at 5.30pm local/6.30am GMT
The team led by world no. 5 Medvedev, who had a superb season in 2019, and world no. 17 Karen Khachanov, a Masters 1000 Series champion in 2018, was always going to be formidable at the inaugural international team event being played across Australia this week. But Medvedev and Khachanov have exceeded expectations. Despite being drawn in what looked like a tough group with the USA, Italy and Norway, Russia have gone 3-0 in ties and won eight of their nine matches over the week in Perth, the solitary defeat coming in a dead doubles rubber against the USA.
Medvedev and Khachanov have left captain Marat Safin little to do but look good, but the team must now adjust to different conditions as they transfer from Perth to Sydney, where the closing stages will be held, and a different format as the competition reaches its elimination rounds.
Argentina are fortunate to have already played all three of their ties in Sydney and are well-attuned to the conditions, even if they have had a tougher time in the group stages. Captain Gaston Gaudio’s men beat Poland 2-1 but suffered an 0-3 loss to Austria, leaving them fighting for their survival against Croatia. However, Wednesday’s tie saw the Argentines rise to the occasion superbly, with Guido Pella and Diego Schwartzman securing straight-sets wins over Marin Cilic and Borna Coric respectively before Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni won the doubles for good measure.
Russia: Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov, Teymuraz Gabashvili, Ivan Nedelko, Konstantin Kravchuk, Marat Safin (captain)
Argentina: Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella, Juan Ignacio Londero, Maximo Gonzalez, Andres Molteni, Gaston Gaudio (captain)
Rubber 1: Karen Khachanov (RUS) vs Guido Pella (ARG), live from Sydney from 5.30pm local/6.30am GMT
Khachanov has won all three of his singles matches this week, beating Stefano Travaglia of Italy, Taylor Fritz of the USA and Viktor Durasovic of Norway and dropping just one set in the process.
‘I think in each match there were some positives,’ Khachanov said. ‘The most important thing is that I had good sets, good fight, and I’m looking forward to playing next matches in Sydney.’
It’s been impressive stuff from Khachanov, who was only able to go 1-3 in singles at the Davis Cup Finals at the end of last year, although in fairness to him his opponents were Borna Coric, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Denis Shapovalov.
Pella will be Khachanov’s highest-ranked opponent so far at the Davis Cup, however. The Argentine hit a career-high ranking of world no. 20 in August 2019 after having made a trio of finals at ATP Tour 250-level events over the past 12 months, finishing runner-up in Umag in 2018 and Cordoba in 2019 (to ATP Cup teammate Juan Ignacio Londero) before winning his first career title in Sao Paulo.
Pella also made the quarterfinals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open, where he defeated Khachanov in their only meeting thus far and the semifinals of Buenos Aires and Los Cabos in a career-best season, and went 2-1 at the Davis Cup Finals, a record he’s reproduced in an up-and-down week at the ATP Cup so far with victories over Kamil Majchrzak of Poland and, most impressively, Marin Cilic of Croatia, but a slightly puzzling loss to Austria’s world no. 105 Denis Novak.
As aforementioned, Pella won the only previous match the two have played, beating Khachanov 6-2, 7-6(4) in Barcelona last year. Clay is a good surface for both men, but Khachanov is probably slightly more of an all-surface player, and certainly brings bigger weapons – a booming serve and formidable weight of shot off both wings – to the court; on the other hand, it didn’t serve him too well against Novak. With Medvedev having a 2-0 record against Schwartzman, this is a vital tie for Argentina to win.
Rubber 2: Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs Diego Schwartzman (ARG), to follow
Watching Medvedev play his first singles rubber of the week against Fabio Fognini of Italy and lose 1-6, one would not have believed that the world no. 5 would end the week unbeaten. But Medvedev has not lost a set since that miserable beginning against Fognini, surging back to beat the Italian 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 and going on to beat John Isner 6-3, 6-1 and Casper Ruud 6-3, 7-6(6).
Runner-up to Kei Nishikori in Brisbane this time last year, Medvedev of course went on to have a brilliant 2019 season which included a run to the US Open final, two Masters 1000 Series titles and a first appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, even if that appearance itself left a bit to be desired with the Russian going 0-3 at the O2 Arena before pulling out of the Davis Cup Finals.
Schwartzman has had a decidedly more mixed week at the ATP Cup, going 1-2 in the group but rising to the occasion when required. Defeated by Poland’s big-serving Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, Schwartzman lost to Dominic Thiem of Austria 3-6, 6-7(3), but it was an incredibly high-quality and close second set, and when he needed to seal the deal against Croatia, the Argentine delivered beating Borna Coric 6-2, 6-2 to send his nation into the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for the world no. 13, he has an 0-2 record against Medvedev, who beat him 6-4, 6-4 in Tokyo in 2018 and then 6-2, 6-2 on grass at Queen’s Club in 2019. It looks like a bad match-up to me: Schwartzman doesn’t have the kind of power to punish Medvedev for junk-balling and grinding by hitting him off the court and he can’t out-defend the Russian, losing a particular advantage against him when it comes to comparative serving.
Schwartzman was hitting the ball tremendously well against Thiem, however, and he does have the advantage of having played three matches in Sydney already whereas Medvedev will be adjusting to new conditions.
Rubber 3: Karen Khachanov/Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs Maximo Gonzalez/Andres Molteni (ARG), to follow after suitable rest
Medvedev and Khachanov have played twice together in the first week, going 1-1 (and the match they lost was a dead rubber); Khachanov also performed well in doubles with Andrey Rublev at the Davis Cup Finals, and with both men possessing big serves, this is a very formidable doubles pairing.
Should the tie come down to this doubles rubber, it would not be surprising if Argentina brought in Schwartzman and/or Pella in an all-out effort to match the Russian power. Gonzalez and Molteni went 2-1 in the group stages but look likely to be outmatched should the tie be live.