Medvedev plays down missing Djokovic as he begins title charge

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev celebrates after victory against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen during their men’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 18, 2022. — AFP pic
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev celebrates after victory against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen during their men’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 18, 2022. — AFP pic

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MELBOURNE, Jan 18 — Daniil Medvedev has played down talk of being the Australian Open favourite in the absence of nine-time winner Novak Djokovic as he made a winning start to his campaign in Melbourne today.

The Russian world number two, who is looking for back-to-back Grand Slam crowns after beating Djokovic in last year’s US Open final, negotiated an unruffled 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win over Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen in 1hr 54min on Rod Laver Arena.

Medvedev is aiming to go one better than last year’s losing final appearance against Djokovic — and with the world number one back home in Serbia after his deportation, the Russian is the prime candidate for the title.

“It cannot change my approach, because it’s still seven tough matches to win,” Medvedev said.

“It was the same at the US Open. I had six tough matches against tough opponents to get in the final and then I had Novak to beat,” he explained.

“And it’s the same, no matter how I do here, how far I go, if I’m in the final, who I play, it’s not gonna be easy and you need to show your best to win a slam.”

Today’s match wasn’t Medvedev’s best tennis, but it was enough to take out the 91st-ranked Laaksonen in straight sets.

The Russian broke Laaksonen’s serve four times, but he totted up more unforced errors than winners — 23-21.

The Swiss was more than competitive in the extended rallies, particularly in the latter stages of the match.

“It was not that easy a match,” Medvedev admitted. “In the third set he played at a really top level. I’m happy that I managed to stay calm on my serve.”

The second seed dropped his opening service game but reeled off the next six games to take the first set.

When Laaksonen finally held service in the opening game of the second set the crowd loudly cheered.

The Swiss did better in the second set, but Medvedev was still controlling things with his methodical groundstrokes.

Laaksonen raised his level and came out on top of several long rallies, but Medvedev’s experience proved the difference in the third-set tiebreaker. — AFP

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