Demon out to bypass the tentacles of ‘Octopus’ Medvedev

Ian Chadband |

Alex de Minaur, here during his US Open loss to Daniil Medvedev, meets the Russian again in Paris.
Alex de Minaur, here during his US Open loss to Daniil Medvedev, meets the Russian again in Paris.

Alex de Minaur feels like he’s entering a new world at the French Open as he plots to checkmate Daniil Medvedev in a fascinating last-16 duel that shapes like a duel of blitz chess on clay.

After a week of endless hanging around with the support cast at Roland Garros, frustrated by rain delays, scheduling woes, lack of practice time and chilly on-off court battles, de Minaur has deservedly battled his way towards a bit VIP pampering on under-cover Court Suzanne Lenglen.

But awaiting him is a potentially labyrinthine battle of wits with “the Octopus” Medvedev, whose long tentacles make for astounding court coverage that de Minaur rivals with his scurrying speed that once had a TV commentator comparing him, rather unflatteringly, to an uncrushable cockroach.

It’s a hugely intriguing contest, last seen at a grand slam last year at Flushing Meadows when the Octopus strangled its victim in four sets at the same stage.

This time, de Minaur is just happy he won’t have to endure a fourth match on an outside court, with each having been delayed or interrupted by rain. 

“Jeez, I’m not too sure how I’m going to deal with playing a full match from start to finish,” grinned the Australian.

“It’s going to be a new experience. Completely different tournament now.”

Medvedev wins
Daniil Medvedev reacts after his win over de Minaur in the 2023 US Open.

In his first second-week appearance in Paris, the first Australian man to get this far since 2007 now dreams of making at least the quarters, again out to emulate his Davis Cup captain, childhood idol and mentor Lleyton Hewitt, who got there 20 years ago.

“I’m quite excited. These are the types of matches I wanted to be playing at the start of the week, and I’m excited to put myself in that position again,” said the world No.11.

For a high-quality player, who’s reached the fourth round seven times in 26 grand slams, it feels a surprise de Minaur has only reached one quarter-final, in the US Open in 2020.

Once again, he’s the outsider – if only perhaps a marginal one – against Medvedev, whose pedigree as a former US Open champ who’s been in five other slam finals is offset by the fact that, like the Australian, clay is not his favourite haunt.

But both de Minaur, who survived a blitz of power-hitting from Jan-Lennard Struff in the third round, and Medvedev recognise this will be a cagey affair between two fleet-footed, counter-punchers who can defend for their lives.

“It’s a completely different match-up to (against Struff). Then, I was on the back foot at all stages, a player who was trying to take control, coming to the net, not staying in too long rallies,” said de Minaur.

“Probably against Medvedev, it’s going to be a lot of gruelling rallies, very tactical awareness from both of us, a lot of variety, change of pace, good movement from both.”

Though they’ve met eight times, the Russian leading 6-2 in the head-to-head, they haven’t faced each other yet on clay.

“Definitely tactical,” agreed Medvedev, who practised with the Aussie before the Monte Carlo Masters in April.

“We both move great, both know how to attack well, but at the same time, we’re not someone who can make one shot that’s going to decide the rally.

“So then the rally goes longer and longer because we both defend well.”

“All of them were fun, and I’m looking forward to it. First time on clay. It’s going to be interesting.”