Second seed Daniil Medvedev had to work hard to earn the 300th match-win of his career as he survived an inspired Alexander Shevchenko to reach the Mutua Madrid Open fourth round for the first time on Monday.
Shevchenko, ranked 96 in the world, had not dropped a set through four matches in Madrid – in qualifying and main draw – and was competing in the third round of a Masters 1000 tournament for the first time.
The 22-year-old pushed Medvedev to his limits before succumbing 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in sweltering conditions in the Spanish capital.
“He played well, he’s young, so I’m sure he’s going to go up the rankings, especially if he plays like this tournament. He’s still young so he has a lot of time to go up,” said Medvedev of Shevchenko.
“I practised with him before, I know that he can play very good. The more consistent he is, kind of like today, but also the more matches like this, maybe next time he’s going to win, the higher he’s going to go. I’m very happy that today I managed to beat him.”
Facing a top-10 opponent for the first time in his career, Shevchenko rose to the occasion from the get-go, breaking Medvedev twice en route to a 5-1 lead, putting on an incredible show for the crowd at the Caja Magica.
Medvedev went on a three-game run as he threatened a comeback but after failing to serve out the set at 5-2, Shevchenko did not falter the second time of asking, taking a one-set lead in 51 minutes.
The qualifier won 93 percent of his first-serve points in that set and was out-rallying Medvedev in most of the longer exchanges.
After a bumpy opening service game in the second set that required two break point saves, Medvedev cruised to a 5-0 lead and soon evened up the match by forcing a final set.
A clinically-constructed point from Shevchenko saw him put Medvedev on the defence before he floated a drop shot to break for a 2-0 advantage in the decider.
Medvedev’s recovery was immediate and the No.2 seed was soon back on level terms. The next game was a 10-minute five-deuce affair that saw Shevchenko produce more magic to fend off three break points and inch ahead 3-2.
Medvedev bizarrely got broken from 40-0 up, missing a volley to hand Shevchenko a two-game cushion. The former US Open champion struck back but looked in trouble when he stared down triple-break point at 3-4. Medvedev saved all three and the duo were all square once again as the set looked destined for a decisive tiebreak.
As the match clock hit the two-hour 35-minute mark, a cramping Shevchenko looked physically impaired as he tamely got broken to trail 5-6.
Medvedev serve-and-volleyed on his first match point but was passed by Shevchenko. The world No.3 created his second opportunity with a sensational backhand passing shot winner and took a bow as the crowd erupted.
He wrapped up the victory with his 29th winner of the contest to set up a fourth-round showdown with Aslan Karatsev or No.16 seed Alex de Minaur.
“I feel like I played pretty well second and third set, and maybe the end of the first,” said Medvedev, who leads the tour with 33 match-wins and four titles this season.
“The thing about clay, usually it’s tough for me to start matches for whatever reason. I need a lot of time to get used to everything that’s happening on the court. And third set could be a little bit better in crucial moments, or maybe a lot better. But finally I won, so that counts also.”
There was a stretch during the match where Medvedev returned 53 consecutive serves from his opponent – a remarkable stat that surprised the 27-year-old.
“This is unbelievable because I remember last game of the first set, where I started playing better and better, I missed two or three returns and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not good’,” said Medvedev who converted 6/14 break points on Monday.
“That makes a difference, that puts a lot of pressure on your opponent and maybe that’s why I had that many opportunities on his serve.”