In the absence of Rafael Nadal at the 2023 Australian Open, Daniil Medvedev looks to keep his title bid on track.

As the 2023 Australian Open begins, tennis fans all over the world are gripped by Grand Slam fever. Every morning for the next two weeks, The Indian Express will bring you the top stories of the day and the greatest matches to watch at times appropriate for Indian audiences.

Showcase match

(7) Daniil Medvedev vs (29) Sebastian Korda (Round of 32)
Approx. 3pm, Rod Laver Arena

Daniil Medvedev was in striking sight of a second consecutive Grand Slam singles triumph a year ago. He held a two-set lead over Rafael Nadal and a mainly partisan and boisterous Melbourne crowd until the Spaniard’s strong comeback caused a decline in his level and confidence.

As Medvedev’s advantage diminished, the fans became more engaged, cheering his blunders and miscues, as Nadal accomplished one of the most extraordinary victories of his career. Medvedev, a perennial villain on most courts he plays, was obviously dejected after the match when he addressed the media, declaring that “the kid” within him had “stopped dreaming.”

As most great players are able to accomplish, Medvedev was able to reset emotionally in 2022, reaching five finals and winning two trophies. But the 26-year-old became irrelevant in the Grand Slams — Wimbledon’s ban on Russians did not help – losing in the fourth round of each of his last two.

After becoming the first player other than Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray to reach No. 1 in the world outside of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray in 18 years in February, his ranking has slipped to No. 8 and given him a very difficult draw this year. Early in the quarterfinals, he was paired against Nadal in a rematch of last year’s championship match; the Spaniard’s early loss gave him a tremendous lift. However, there is still more work to be done.

If Medvedev wishes to reach a third straight Melbourne final, he might face Hubert Hurkacz, Frances Tiafoe, and Stefanos Tsitsipas in order. But first, on Friday in the third round, he must face the excellent American Sebastian Korda, who will not be an easy opponent.

Korda enters the main draw with confidence after pushing Djokovic to the brink in the final of the Adelaide tuneup, where Djokovic overcame Medvedev. According to the Serb’s own admission, Korda was the superior player in the match and held match point before losing in the deciding set.

Solid server

Under normal conditions, Korda is the type of opponent against whom Medvedev typically excels. Korda is typically at his best when he is able to open up his forehand wing and play high-intensity spurts of strong tennis. Korda is a solid server with an aggressive mindset. Medvedev is a genius at shifting pace from the baseline, and he is even better at prolonging rallies with one of the strongest defensive skills on the tour — through court coverage and shot selection.

In the latter half of 2012, Medvedev’s strengths — an unbelievable serve and an impregnable defence – were neutralised by opponents who identified a certain flaw. His declining first-serve percentage has resulted in his second serve being targeted, and his previously flawless, error-free performance has given way to errors, which frequently result in mental lapses that are exploited.

Korda’s latest enhancements include an improved approach to serving and a greater use of his stronger forehand, which can cause harm to Medvedev’s weaker wing if hit crosscourt to Medvedev’s weaker wing.

Nonetheless, the encounter will be an examination of Medvedev’s title credentials. Behind Djokovic, he is the most accomplished remaining five-set player, and he is at ease in the Melbourne conditions. In the absence of Nadal, he has become the favourite in the top half of the draw to reach the final. However, after a year of setbacks, does he still possess the courage? A strong performance will put an end to such rumours.

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