MOSCOW: Daniil Medvedev, Russia’s number one tennis player, on Tuesday signed caps and tennis balls for fans in his native city of Moscow, hours after landing from China, where he won the Shanghai Masters Sunday.
After a period in the doldrums, Russian tennis is now infused with a new generation of young male players and Medvedev, 23, is leading the pack, now at a career-best of fourth in the world.
Tired after a long flight and admitting he was surviving on coffee, Medvedev posed for selfies with fans.
“I do feel there’s a lot of support coming from Russia. it’s huge and it’s great,” he told AFP. “A lot of support coming from social media (and) support from my friends, because most of my friends are still Russian guys.”
Fans hailed his influence.
“The main thing is that tennis is becoming more popular in Russia thanks to him,” said one fan, 19-year-old student Daniil Trefilov.
Trefilov hopes to watch Medvedev play in the city’s Kremlin Cup this week — Medvedev said he will decide on Tuesday if he will participate.
Another fan, David Umarkhadzhiyev who leads an online group of Russian supporters, said he “fell in love with the game” from watching Medvedev play.
“After (Marat) Safin and (Yevgeny) Kafelnikov there was a kind of stagnation,” Umarkhadzhiyev said, referring to top players of past decades.
“There were no men and suddenly one or two years ago, Medvedev, (Karen) Khachanov and (Andrei) Rublev appeared.”
The trio are Russia’s top-ranking men’s players and Medvedev says they share a healthy rivalry.
“We have a great competition between us three guys and we really push each other.”
Speaking fluent English and French as well as Russian, he looks tanned and relaxed but his eyes sometimes half-close from fatigue.
Beyond rivalry with fellow Russian players, Medvedev is now challenging the dominance of tennis’s big three much older players: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
“These guys are just from another planet, we have to admit it, they are really strong and we are trying our best to beat them,” he said.
He did not attach much significance to claims by commentators such as Boris Becker that the younger generation of players may not be strong enough mentally to seize the crown from the old guard.
“I just can continue to work hard, to improve every day and to try my best to be at the top of the tennis world,” he said.
“If it works out, I will be extremely happy, if it doesn’t, I know I did my best.”